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Op-Ed: Jamey Rodemeyer’s Tragic Death is a Call to Action (Buffalo News)

By John A. Curr III

Days before taking his own life, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer described his sense of helplessness in an online post.

“I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. . . . What do I have to do so people will listen to me?” he wrote.

Jamey’s suicide demonstrates the devastating toll of bullying. Moreover, it indicates the challenges educators can face in identifying and effectively addressing bullying. In the wake of this tragedy, local school districts should take steps to ensure bullied students that somebody is ready to help.

For the long term, school districts should be preparing to implement the Dignity for All Students Act, a state law enacted in 2010 that protects public school students from bullying.

While the act won’t take effect until next school year, there are simple steps that schools can take immediately. First, they should establish a confidential phone or email system for students to report bullying incidents. Then they should designate a staff member to investigate reports of bullying and coordinate appropriate responses.

An effective response starts with talking to the bullied student. The solution is often simple, such as allowing the student to take a different lunch period, or to leave school a few minutes early every day.

As we mourn Jamey, some have called for harsh measures against the bullies. The desire to punish is understandable, but arresting or suspending students who engage in bullying will not address the problem. It could intensify it.

Preventing bullying requires the difficult work of creating a welcoming, respectful school climate. The Dignity Act is intended to help schools realize this goal.

Among its provisions, the Dignity Act requires schools to incorporate curricula on diversity and sensitivity into lessons on civility and citizenship. It also mandates that educators are trained to recognize and respond effectively to bullying.

To help local school districts implement the law, the State Education Department has established a task force of various stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, school administrators and advocates. The task force is drafting model policies on responding to bullying for local school boards, recommending training programs and curricula. It is also creating a special resource guide to help school districts develop anti-bullying strategies.

Local parents, students and educators are encouraged to participate in implementing the Dignity Act. The task force will hold a public forum in Buffalo in the coming months. The Buffalo School District is being proactive on this matter. It held a very successful public forum on bullying in January.

Even the most effective policies may not prevent all tragedies, but working together we can provide our students the safe classrooms they deserve.

John A. Curr III is the director of the Western Regional Office of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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