For most parents, it’s safe to say that when it comes to bullying and your child, it’s nearly impossible to stay unemotional about it. But an expert on the issue says if you want to see the bullying end, stay specific.
“It’s important to stay as non-emotional about the issue as possible and to stay with the facts,” said Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO, STARS-Nashville.
“What do parents do? First thing, real simply, make sure you document well.”
Dinwiddie is the CEO of STARS-Nashville, a non-profit helping young people through social and emotional issues they might face, like bullying. Dinwiddie worked with the Tennessee Department of Education for years, helping lead schools across the state in bullying recognition, prevention and resolution.
“Bullying is repetitive, it’s an imbalance of power in strength where one person has more power than the other, or a group has more power,” explained Dinwiddie.
He added, “It’s intentionally done to cause harm and discomfort to someone.”
Before a parent takes their concerns to their child’s school, Dinwiddie says your first job is to educate yourself. Tennessee public schools are required by law to go through bullying training.
Dinwiddie says to find out what type of training your child’s school staff has taken. He says it’s critical to know the difference between conflict and bullying and get as many facts as you can from your child.
“Really, it’s fishing for that information with your kids. That’s the point when documentation from parents occurs so when you do go to school, they have some knowledge about what they can really say that’s as factual as possible,” said Dinwiddie.
Each district has different policies, but in general, Dinwiddie says parents have the right to report issues to their child’s teacher. If there’s no resolution, go one level up and all the while, continue to document. Keep track of the date, time, type of communication you have and the response.
“Once it gets to the principal, it may be a good idea to copy your correspondence to the supervisor of the administrator,” said Dinwiddie. “And if nothing else happens, go all the way to the director of schools, the superintendent and/or their designee.”
The district will be required to investigate the complaint within a certain amount of time, and when it’s done, a parent should ask what the resolution was. Privacy laws limit what information can be released but, “schools can tell that parent, in general, what they did. They handled it, they’ve addressed it and they’re on top of it and will be constantly monitoring this situation.”
If a parent still is not satisfied with the response, or if they don’t believe the problem has been resolved, Dinwiddie says you have every right to contact the district’s Board of Education. Schedule a meeting with your representative and share the notes and steps you’ve taken.
“It’s important to have it written down so it’s not just you and I talking, it’s me and you speaking but also it’s in front of us in black and white,” explained Dinwiddie.
“Past the BOE, if they feel like nothing is happening, I would suggest that the best place is to call the Office of Civil Rights, if it involves an issue where it has been a protected class involved,” said Dinwiddie.
Not every instance of bullying qualifies for an investigation by the Civil Rights office. Last school year, 8 complaints were submitted and investigated.
Statewide, Tennessee school districts reported 12,463 reports of bullying to the state. More than half, 6,653 were confirmed cases of bullying.
For Dinwiddie, it comes down to this: parents have the responsibility to educate themselves about bullying and every right to advocate for their child.