The nation watched in shock recently as four middle school boys barraged 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein with jabs about her weight, attacks on her family, and chuckled as they made violent and graphic threats.
We also watched as Klein remained quiet, taking the abuse and failing to respond to the students. This incident might have gone unnoticed and unreported, had not one of the teenagers posted a 10-minute video of the harassment on YouTube.
As the video went viral and support poured in for Klein, many education institutions and parents began asking themselves: "Could that happen on our buses, in our community, at our school?
Valuable lessons may be learned from this incident that could help prevent such incidents from occurring or escalating in schools.
Do school administrators have any clue what is happening to students, bus monitors or drivers on the way to and from school?
And perhaps more important, are bus monitors and drivers trained properly with the right information on how to respond if students are abusing or bullying them? Do the bus monitors understand their roles and responsibilities for responding to the bullying or harassment of students? What role do the monitors have in the safety of the students on the bus?
In the recent documentary, "Bully," one of the students featured was tortured and bullied daily on the bus, but because of a lack of awareness and reporting, school administrators and parents were clueless about the situation. How can institutions ensure that they are made aware of these incidents?
A Failure to Report
These incidents and others clearly show drastic disconnects between school administrators and policy, and what is happening on buses, in locker rooms, in hallways, at sporting events, online and numerous other locations where bullying and abuse is taking place.
In recent studies, 65 percent of victims said bullying was not reported by them or others to teachers or school officials. Even when a bullying victim had suffered injury, 40 percent of the time the students said the bullying was not reported. In fact, studies show only one or two out of every 10 incidents are being reported; 80 to 90 percent of incidents are unreported and school leaders remain in the dark.
These incidents remain unnoticed for many reasons. Students may fear retaliation from a bully or don't want to be embarrassed. They may feel their reports will be ignored or that reporting it will make the situation worse. Many times students don't know where or whom to turn to; they don't trust the administration or law enforcement, or they may have not a way to report an incident anonymously.
The Office of Civil Rights requires schools to investigate bullying incidents, and take immediate action to stop harassment and prevent its recurrence. If a school knows or reasonably should know about student harassment and fails to address its effects and take appropriate action, it is opening themselves up to federal investigations and expensive lawsuits. School districts and higher-education institutions must establish comprehensive policies and procedures for identifying, reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of bullying and harassment.
Several Midwest schools, including Tulsa Public Schools, are taking proactive action to empower their students, personnel, parents and others to report incidents (anonymously or not).
These schools are using innovative risk and incident management and threat assessment tools to encourage students, teachers, staff and others to confidentially and anonymously report bullying or other potentially harmful student behavior. In addition to bullying and cyber-bullying, an incident-management system enables students and staff to anonymously report weapons possession, drug/alcohol use, harassment or intimidation, school vandalism, physical assault, threats of violence, suicide risk, abuse and other incidents.
Replacing the Status Quo
A comprehensive incident-management system ensures all incident reports are tracked, documented and addressed proactively. With a Web-based platform, for example, school administrators can access on-demand reporting to see when reports are made, when team members received and acknowledged each report, and what steps were taken to address the report.
A comprehensive platform will ensure incident reports (and videos, screenshots, etc.) get to the right people immediately so they can investigate, intervene and prevent incidents before they lead to tragedy or go viral, ending in costs (legal, reputation, media, parent outrage, stress, investigations, fines, etc.) that could have been prevented.
Innovative platforms are replacing traditional incident-reporting processes and programs and automating what was once a labor-intensive and expensive manual process of documentation. Team members collaborate through the platform to share ongoing findings and help connect all the dots needed to ensure a safe and responsive approach. The ability to load mandated policy, training, updates to process or procedure, etc., make this approach cost-efficient for institutions trying to cut costs.
Schools can be more efficient in their response, more collaborative in interventions and investigations, and more accountable to students and their families.
Johnson is the director of client services and marketing for Awareity, Lincoln, Neb., a provider of risk management, incident reporting and prevention platforms.
View the video to learn more from Karen Klein.