Dr Kevin Leman in his book Have a New Kid by Friday.
The Disability Standards for Education 2005: What it says about bullying.
In Australia, the inclusion of children with disabilities in educational institutions is shaped by the Disability Standards for Education, 2005 . Part 8 of these Standards deals specifically with the issue of bullying. So I thought I would start this month by explaining the key points from those Standards.
For readers who come from countries other than Australia, the key elements of the Disability Standards should be reflected in legislation in your country. In a later post I will explore the UN rights of the Child and would love to hear from anyone who has some information about relevant laws in their own country.
What is harassment or bullying? (picture copyright Amanda Gray, taken from "Dave is Brave" www.learn2bebuddies.com.au)
The Disability Standards define harrassment/bullying as any action that may “humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person” (p22). It clearly states that any act that comes under this category that is aimed at students with disabilities or any associate (eg parent, friend, teacher) of that student is unlawful under the Disability Discrimmination Act 1992.
It also more specifically states that no one should be bullied or harassed due their need for supports or adjustments such as teachers' aides, technology, guide dogs and so on.
While I am just focusing on the Disability Discrimmination Act and Disability Standards, there are laws that address this issue for all community members, not just students with disabilities. They all have the following elements.
What is required of an education provider?
First, let’s just clarify that an education provider is any educational institution, authority or anyone who is developing curricula. So, for example, in NSW that includes the NSW Board of Studies, the Department of Education and your child’s school.
And education provider needs to have in place three things:
1. Processes to prevent bullying or harassment
2. Mechanisms for reporting any occurrences of harassment or bullying.
3. Mechanisms to respond to harassment of bullying.
The Standards make it clear that part of the process of preventing harassment is to have a code of conduct. This means that there should be rules that help set a positive, supportive, respectful culture in the school.
Every school should have a discipline policy or anti-bullying policy that includes a set of rules or expectations. These expectations should be about promoting respect. These policies should also be frequently discussed and freely available to everyone in the school community, including parents.
There are many other ways of preventing bullying, but I will discuss these in future posts.
The Standards require that a school have a system for ensuring that students can report if they have been bullied or harassed. This process should again be clearly stated in the anti-bullying or discipline policy. And, again, this should be available to all students, staff and parents.
Students and staff should be reminded regularly of how they can report bullying.
Students can be afraid of reporting a bullying event if they feel like they are at risk of further bullying due to being seen as a “tattler”. It is important that the school design processes that a confidential and protect the “reporter” of a bullying event. I will discuss this more in a future post.
The Disability Standards state that any response to bullying should be “fair, transparent and accountable.”
This means firstly that the school needs to understand what caused the bullying in the first place. Misunderstanding? Self-esteem issues on the part of the bully? Prejudice or stereotyping? Lack of empathy? There are many more reasons why one person bullies another.
This does not mean that the bully should not experience consequences. However, it does mean that the only way to really stop the bullying is to address the underlying reason for the bullying and respond to the needs of all parties in the event.
Zero tolerance to bullying is essential. But that does not mean that we ignore the needs of the bully. This will benefit neither the bully nor the child being bullied. But I will talk about that in another post this month.
Being transparent about your response to bullying is about making clear what the consequences for bullying will be in the school or Departmental policy. So the anti-bullying policy should say “If you bully someone, then …”
Being accountable is about recording the bullying event and the steps taken to respond to it. For example, the school principal, parent and/or school counsellor should keep records about what has happened.
If you want to know more….
If you want to know more about the Disability Standards, you can download them here. You could also look at the documents that help explain the Disability Standards (though they are a bit heavy).
If you want to know more about the NSW Department of Education’s approach to bullying in schools, visit Bullying! No Way!