Bullying Impacts the Daily Lives of Florida Students


Bullying has received national attention as horrific stories of children targeted by their peers make their way to media outlets across the country and state. Bullying is the unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children and can have lifelong effects. One in three students cite bullying as the reason they drop out of school. The Association for Psychological Science recently found that those who are bullies, victims or both are more likely to experience poor life outcomes like poverty, academic failure and job termination in their adulthood than those who were neither. People impacted by bullying are more likely to commit crimes and abuse substances.

Although no federal law directly addresses bullying, it can overlap with discriminatory harassment when it is based on race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. Bullying disproportionately impacts minorities, LGBTQ youth, and children with disabilities.

Children of Color Are Bullied and Also Receive Harsher Punishment

According to the U.S Department of Education, 25% of students being bullied are Black and 17% of children being bullied are Latinx. Many of these students experience bullying and harassment because of their racial and ethnic identity. Race-related bullying is also associated with increased incidences of verbal and physical aggression. In 2017, Black and Latinx students in Florida were more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property than White students (9.9% and 7.8% compared to 6.9%). An even greater percentage of Black (11.6%) and Latinx (11.3%) students in Florida avoided going to school because they felt unsafe, compared to 8.1% of White students. Despite a notable portion of Black and Latinx children being victimized by bullying, there is a growing body of research showing they also disproportionately receive harsher punishment for bullying due to zero tolerance for bullying policies. Overall, Black students comprise nearly 41% of suspensions and 42% of expulsions from Florida K-12 public schools in the 2017-2018 school year, but only 22.1% of the school population.

These adverse experiences could also lead these students to suffer emotionally, and with little support for mental health issues in their schools. In 2017, 26.5% of Black students and 30.1% of Latinx students in Florida reported feeling sad or hopeless, and these students were more likely to attempt suicide than their White counterparts (7.8% and 8.2% compared to 6.5%). It is important to look at how students, educators, and the education system as a whole contributes to the negative experiences students of color experience in schools. There must be more access to mental health services in schools and policies must be put into place to eliminate the presence of implicit biases in teaching practices that harm Black students and other students of color.

Florida Should Expand Ways it Accepts and Reviews Reports of Bullying

Florida is taking steps to follow policy recommendations identified by experts as best practices and has implemented all twelve key components of anti-bullying laws laid out by experts. Additionally, Florida law specifically defines bullying and harassment and addresses specific populations to minimize policy bias.

Florida ranks 9th in the nation for the least number of bullying reports. However, parents and students question the validity of those seemingly low numbers. The definition of bullying laid out by the nation and the state requires that an imbalance of power or a perceived imbalance of power exists between the bully and the victim, that there is intent to cause harm or distress to the victim, and that the harassment is repeated over time. The reports do not include incidences that only occur once. Florida specifically reports bullying numbers through public school records of bullying incidents rather than through self reports by students, which is the practice used in some other states. Florida private schools are not currently mandated to report incidences of bullying to the state. In addition, districts vary in their ability to accept anonymous and online reports of bullying. These combined issues could create a lower bullying count than actually experienced by Florida students.

Both Victims and Bullies Require Appropriate Services

Victims of bullying report negative long-term effects, including destructive thinking patterns that contribute to anxiety, depression, and suicidal behaviors. Many childhood bullies have adverse experiences when they are young or are seeking attention in response to trauma or mental health issues. In fact, counseling must be made available to victims of bullying to decrease negative long term effects. When counseling is offered the likelihood of mental health adversities decrease for both the victim and the bully. Additionally, school misbehaviors decrease in children who were the bully.

Counselors improve school climate by aiding administrators in the design and implementation of comprehensive mental health strategies. When a positive school climate exists, negative school behaviors decrease and minimize the need for disciplinary actions. Currently, Florida students have more access to school law enforcement than social workers, counselors, or psychologists.

Life-long Consequences Can Follow Students Classified as Bullies

Florida schools have full jurisdiction to determine disciplinary actions or legal consequences for bullies. While giving schools full power to determine punishments for bullying can allow for decisions based on individual or local needs, it can also lead to issues of fairness across county lines.

Florida leads the nation in school-based arrests, referring students to law enforcement at a rate 30% higher than the national average. By categorizing bully behaviors as crimes, Florida schools initiate the introduction of children to law enforcement, decreasing the likelihood of graduation and increasing the likelihood of future incarcerations.

Consequential “zero tolerance” policies reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline by eliminating the opportunity for students to learn corrective behaviors. Additionally, zero tolerance policies are more likely to impact students with disabilities, students of color, and LGBTQ youth. Florida is three times more likely to arrest black students for school-based infractions and nearly eight times more likely to arrest students with disabilities.

Support

  • Invest in counselors for Florida’s schools: Bullies and victims need access to appropriate counseling services to reduce negative impacts and to uncover core reasons for bullying behavior.
  • Expand the ways in which Florida accepts and reviews bullying reports: Currently the best practice provided by the Department of Education allows for written and oral reporting but access to anonymous reporting differs across school districts. Online reporting needs to be available in all districts and the ability to take and review anonymous reporting needs to be increased.
  • Encourage private schools to report instances of bullying to the Department of Education (DOE): Private schools are not under the oversight of the DOE, but report on attendance and other health-related information. Reporting instances of bullying in private schools will help identify the full scope of the problem facing the state and ensure that practices that transfer victims of bullying to private schools are successful in keeping children safe.
  • Prioritize evidence-based prevention over reactive policies: Continue to follow best practice research when crafting bullying legislation and keep Florida’s policies updated as better research and reponses become available.
  • Hold bullies accountable but do not criminalize youthful behavior and disagreements: School is a safe place to learn social skills that will shape the rest of student’s lives. Students must be allowed the freedom to make mistakes without increasing the school to prison pipeline.

Legislation

The Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights

  • To be posted as priority bills are filed

What the Children’s Campaign Is Saying…

 Additional Resources

  • Florida Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies—US Department of Health and Human Services. Florida’s bullying laws are modeled after the key component framework outlined by the ‘Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies’ published by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Counselors Not Cops—American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida. Florida schools need counselors to promote healthy school climates and break the cycle of delinquency.
  • Florida’s Bullying Laws—Florida Statutes. Florida’s bullying laws include cyberbullying and specific cases of discrimination based on sex, religion, and race.

Disclaimer: These links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They do not constitute an endorsement or approval by The Children’s Campaign or its affiliate organizations and partners.