Tuesday, March 20, 2018

OCPA column: Hope for Bullied Kids

Hope for Bullied Kids
by OCPA President Jonathan Small

For many students, spring break will provide a welcome respite from bullying, harassment, or other unpleasant experiences at school. In fact, these students look forward to a teacher walkout because it’s one less day they’d have to worry about harassment or bullying.

Bullying is shockingly common in schools nationwide. Fully 77 percent of 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds say they have witnessed bullying, according to a national survey conducted in September 2017.

It’s a problem in Oklahoma, too. I saw it during my seven years as a volunteer teacher in the Oklahoma City Public Schools. And, we all see it continually in the headlines.

The worst-case scenarios are too painful to bear. Bullying is “leading to suicide more and more often, more and more young,” Oklahoma State University professor Patricia Hughes warned as far back as 2010. “We’re seeing an escalation in the incidents, in the violence. Here, we’re seeing suicides happening very, very, very close to us.”

There have even been billboards in Edmond and elsewhere drawing attention to “Bullycide: suicide as a result of being bullied.”

Harassment is a problem, too. Last month, a student in Jenks was suspended for the rest of the school year “for groping several girls at school.”

It’s not uncommon. One Del City teacher recently said that “sexual assault and harassment in schools is severely under-reported.” This echoes what state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, said in 2014: “Based on what I heard from my constituents, sexual harassment of girls in our public schools is close to being pro forma.”

At long last, one state has done something about it. Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation recently creating the Hope Scholarship program, giving victims of bullying and harassment the ability to choose a private school or another public school.

It’s time for Oklahoma to do likewise. Whether it’s a voucher, an education savings account, or a tax-credit scholarship, it’s time to throw a life preserver to the kids who need it right now. A child can’t properly learn if he or she is living in fear of bullying or harassment. Families and children struggling with bullying or harassment need options.

Hope Scholarships will “help children for whom each school day brings anguish and fear,” says Florida state Rep. Byron Donalds. “I know. I’ve talked to parents who live with this horror, and they’re not looking for a lecture on bullying statutes or a treatise on juvenile violence. They just want a way out for their own children, and we owe it to them.”

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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