Schools That Stonewall: What to Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied and the School Is Unresponsive

If you're the parent of a bullied child who's frustrated with a lack of responsiveness from your son's or daughter's school, if you've tried everything from meeting with the counselor to talking to the principal, perhaps even contacting the superintendent, and your child is still coming home in tears every day, don't lose hope.

I'm a bullying survivor turned activist who travels the nation's schools working with students, faculty, and parents to help save lives. I know first-hand the anguish for both parents and administrators when there's a child in crisis. Parents, you need to keep a cool head and be guided by reason, not emotion. The calmer you are, the more you'll achieve with the school. Making threats or irrational demands can diminish your credibility and put everyone on the defensive. You need to approach the school ready to cooperate and focus on finding solutions that won't benefit just your child but the student body as a whole.

Also, try and keep in mind that despite their cruel behavior, most bullies are good kids in bad circumstances acting out in a cry for help. Finding it in your heart to feel some compassion for your child's bully (I know it's a lot to ask) is far more likely to turn the situation around than giving in to anger. Encourage the school to find out what's driving the bully's behavior. Perhaps something is going on at home, and he or she is bringing that anger and fear with them to class. It makes fitting in even more important, because for some of these kids, their friends are their only support and solace. And if they're feeling insecure, the bullying can get worse. The key to breaking the cycle is the curiosity of caring adults, and that includes you, the parents of the victims. Don't jump to conclusions about your child's bully. Ask questions, and encourage the school to ask questions, too. The solutions that offer the strongest long-term results are those that address the best interests of both bully and victim.

If you reach an impasse with the school or find you are being stonewalled, here are some specific steps to inspire action:

  • Document, document, document! Help your child keep a journal of abuses; jot down dates, times, and details. If there were witnesses, write down their names. For cyber-bullying, print out all nasty or threatening emails, blog or Facebook postings, instant messages, etc. Document threatening or demeaning cell phone texts, as well. Many cell phones allow you to snap a screen photo of the text messages. You can also email the texts to yourself and then print them out.

  • Ask your child the names of other kids at school who are also being bullied. Reach out to their parents, share with them what you and your child have been going through, and form a parental coalition. A school may try to ignore one concerned parent, but there's no school that can ignore an organized constituency of determined parents.
  • Keep taking it up the chain of command. If the principal doesn't give you a response, go to the superintendent. If that doesn't work, present your case in public at the next school board meeting. Every school district is required to hold a monthly school board meeting open to the public. Air your grievances there and bring your documentation!
  • And if that still doesn't yield any action on the part of the school, contact the education writer at your local newspaper. You'd be surprised how quickly a school administration will respond when reporters are asking questions.
  • Above all, don't give up. One of the reasons so many students continue to get bullied even after a parent has approached the school is that the parent doesn't do the necessary follow-up. Get involved, and stay involved. Don't assume after one or two meetings with a principal that the problem will resolve itself. You have to be as vigilant as you would with any important project. And remember, you're never alone. I'm here. Reach out if you need me.