CLEVELAND- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio urges school officials to adopt comprehensive education programs designed to educate students and parents about the consequences of bullying. The ACLU’s call to action comes after weeks of state and national reports of bullying and teen suicides caused by bullying. Most recently, a crowd of students at North High School in Eastlake, near Cleveland, were videotaped chanting anti-gay expletives at a football game. The school is only a few miles from Mentor High School, where four teens have committed suicide over the past two years as a result of bullying.
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “Schools must provide a safe, healthy environment for children to learn and express themselves. Oftentimes, young people simply do not understand the effect their words can have on another child. While students should be held accountable for their actions, we must focus on educating them in order to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.”
October 20, 2010 has been dubbed “Spirit Day” by grassroots activists across the country. In the wake of several teen suicides reported in September and October, teen activist Brittany McMillan asked people on social networking sites to wear purple on October 20 to support LGBT students who were victims of bullying. News of Spirit Day quickly spread and advocacy organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have helped promote it.
“The growth of technology has made addressing bullying more complex,” Link added. “Cyberbullying should be discouraged, but schools should not rely on draconian zero-tolerance policies that often punish the bully and victim, and must be careful not to stifle students’ First Amendment rights. To truly prevent bullying, schools must adopt a plan that properly balances discipline and proactive education.”
In 2006, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 276, which prohibited bullying, expanded training for educators, and required school districts to report all bullying incidents. News reports from the Columbus Dispatch in 2009 showed some area schools had not fully complied with the law, and have not effectively implemented these changes.