Recently, a class action suit has been filed against the New York City Education Department alleging that violence in schools has increased to the point that it is impeding students’ constitutional rights to an education. The complaint was filed last Wednesday by eleven students and their families as well as a pro-charter advocacy group named Families for Excellent Schools. The suit claims that school violence has increased and that the violence is more often than not against minority students as well as members of the LGBT community. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio refutes these claims stating that the major violence in schools is actually down 14.29 percent (Harris, 2016). In many ways this conflict is representative of the challenges discussed by Limber (2004) in regards to the difficulty of implementing comprehensive bullying prevention programs. Quite often, the integral players cannot agree on the severity of the problem, and that assumes that they can agree that a problem even exists (Limber, 2004).
Limber (2004) named that one of the biggest barriers to adopting a successful program is resistance from school staff and parents. That resistance often stems from a lack of awareness regarding the actual statistics of bullying in schools. In the case of the New York City Education Department, things are further complicated because people on either side of the argument are using different sets of data to argue their points. Mayor de Blasio bases his claims that the schools are in fact less violent on figures drawn from a database run by the New York Police Department that tracks any occurrence where a member of the police department is involved. This data does not include any acts of violence that were witnessed by teachers or students where the police were not called or notitified. Families for Excellent Schools, one of the parties in the class action suit, base their opinions on data drawn from New York State which includes any incidents reported by school administrators regardless of whether the police were involved. Some question the validity of this data as there is not a clear distinction between minor incidents and serious complaints and the data is not always verified. However, this data suggests that violence in schools actually rose 23 percent (Harris, 2016).
This highlights the need for unbiased and empirical data prior to the implementation of any intervention. From an applied social psychological perspective, before any intervention can take place, they would first need to do a thorough needs assessment to determine if there truly is a problem. Then they would need to take the time to understand the precipitating factors, or the things that led to the violence in the schools in the first place, as well as the perpetuating factors which have sustained that violence. Only then can they hope to implement any kind of strategy to address the reduction of violent acts (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012).
The New York City Education Department could benefit from implementing a program similar to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. One of the biggest issues facing New York appears to be a lack of consistency in how acts of violence are defined, addressed, and reported. The Olweus program would address those issues by developing school-wide, and potentially district-wide, rules against bullying. The program would also provide a framework for how those incidents can and should be reported, as well as the appropriate actions that should follow each act of violence (Limber, 2004). If nothing else, the program would provide consistent information so they can later determine whether acts of violence are in fact increasing or decreasing. Additionally, a key component of the program is to encourage participation between the school, parents, and the community (Limber, 2004). This could help to bridge the apparent gap between the New York City Education Department and the families and communities they serve.
Harris, E. A. (2016, April 7). New York Education Dept. is sued over violence in schools. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/08/nyregion/new-york-education-dept-is-sued-over-violence-in-schools.html
Limber, S. P. (2004). Implementation of the Olweus bullying prevention program in American schools: Lessons learned from the field. In Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perpective on prevention and intervention (pp. 351-363). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.