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Confidentiality v. Parent's Need to Know:
How Much Information About Bullies Should a School Provide?
by Pete and Pam Wright

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"I am a special education teacher. A child with disabilities was the victim of bullies. The bullies faced consequences, including their parents being called.

"The parent of the bullied child wanted to know who the bullies are, what the consequences were, and what happened at a meeting with their parents. It felt like the bullies were becoming the victims.

"How much information about other students is too much for the school to share with the parent of another child?"

Unknown to each other, Pete Wright and Pam Wright responded to this teacher's email. What did they say? How different was their advice in this situation?

Pam said:

You need to step into this parent's shoes. Assume you just learned that your child had been bullied by other students. How would you respond? I'm sure you would be upset - frightened and angry.

Wouldn't you want to know who the bullies are? Do they live in your neighborhood? Do they live on your street? Do they ride the bus with your child? Do they attend the same classes?

Exactly what did the bullies do to your child? How long did the bullying go on? Who knew about it? When did they know? Whom did they tell?

What punishment did the bullies receive from the school? What steps has the school taken to ensure that your child will not experience bullying again?

Now, imagine that the school staff told you, "the consequences including their parents being called." Nothing more.

As a parent, would you be satisfied because the school called the bullies' parents?

The bullying took place at school. As a parent, you have a right to know who bullied your child, what they did, who knew about it, how long it went on, how the school dealt with the bullies, what punishment, if any, was meted out, and what the school is doing to ensure that your child will be safe.

If the school refuses to provide this information, will you feel confident that school personnel will protect your child in the future? If you return your child to school, will you feel confident that your child will be safe?

How can bullies be viewed as "victims" because you as the parent need information and straight answers before you can have any confidence that your child will be safe at school?

If the school refused to provide this information and assurances that your child will be safe from bullies, would you lose trust in the school's willingness to protect your child?

Trust is fragile. Once trust is broken, it may never be regained.

Pete said:

Change the facts. Your child attends a summer camp. He was severely beaten up by another camper and hospitalized. Camp officials refused to release any information about the aggressor and what steps they took, if any.

As a parent, how would you feel about this? Would you be satisfied?

Change facts again. Your child attends a private school. He was assaulted by another student and is now in the hospital. You want to press charges against the attacker. The private school staff refuse to release any information about the aggressor, including his identity.

As a parent, how would you feel about this? Would you be satisfied?

Change facts again. Your child was assaulted at the local mall. The mall security were involved. Security did not notify you, nor did they call the police. You didn't know about the assault until your child walked in the door and told you.

As a parent, how would you feel about this? Would you be satisfied?

In all these scenarios in which trusted individuals refuse to release information about our child, what will the parent assume? The parent will assume that the authorities are protecting the bullies, the aggressors, who hurt their child.

Parents have a right to know that their child was hurt and who hurt their child. They have a right to know what steps the school has taken, if any, to prevent the behavior from occurring again. When a school does anything less, this will be viewed as a cover-up. It will appear that the school has a policy of doing nothing to protect vulnerable students from bullies.

This perception may close to reality.

Students Have Limited Rights to Privacy

From a legal perspective, In a 1995 case about drug testing of student athletes, the U. S. Supreme Court noted that public school children have lower privacy expectations than other people because they require constant supervision and control.

In a 2002 case about privacy of education records, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that students do not have a right to privacy when students grade papers. That case is Owasso Indep Sch. Dist. v. Falvo, parent and next friend of her minor children (you can read the decision on Findlaw.com)

Resources

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School --How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence

Author Barbara Coloroso describes a deadly triad - bullies who terrorize, bullied kids who are afraid to tell, bystanders who watch, participate, or look away - and adults who dismiss the incidents as a "normal part of childhood."

This book describes three kinds of bullying; steps to take if your child is a bully; four abilities to protect your child; how to help a bullied child heal and effectively discipline the bully; and how to evaluate your school's anti-bullying policy.

Bullying Prevention Handbook: A Guide for Principals, Teachers, and Counselors
-
This comprehensive book for understanding, preventing, and reducing bullying describes effective teaching and counseling methods including:
- a step-by-step bullying intervention model that can be implemented in schools, agencies and communities;
-strategies that teachers, administrators, and counselors can use in work with bullies and their scapegoats;
- assessment and evaluation tools;
-strategies to improve the families of bullies and scapegoats.

Although the Bullying Prevention Handbook is described as "a guide for principals, teachers and counselors," it is recommended for parents as well. Concerned, informed parents are often a necessary catalyst for schools to implement effective violence-prevention programs.

Answers to Questions about Parent Observations, Privacy & Confidentiality

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Revised: 02/08/10
Created: 02/26/07



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