Children cannot learn when they are in an unsafe environment and bullying is a major reason why families seek educational options. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) would give families an escape hatch.
In the last several days videos were published showing two fights between students at Salem High School. An Eagle Tribune article states that three fights at the high school were reported to police in the last six weeks. Students and a teacher report that a fourth fight occurred on Friday, October 13th. The Salem Police Chief said that the number of incidents is not unusual at the school. A parent of a sophomore said Salem High School is developing a “fight club” environment.
Unfortunately bullying is not isolated to one NH school district. Last month an Oyster River elementary student was harassed on the school bus with racist remarks and physical contact.
Sadly, bullying is not a rare experience. The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed in the 2014-2015 School Crime Supplement that 21% of students aged 12 to 18 experienced bullying. Similarly, the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, administered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that 20% of students in 9th through 12th grade report being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey.
Per the New Hampshire Department of Education’s 2014-2015 Bullying Report, the most recent report available, there were 2,230 incidents of bullying including cyber bullying reported across the Granite State’s elementary, middle, and high schools. It also indicates there were 1,201 incidents of investigated and actual bullying that school year. The DOE states that 306 of these incidents interfered with the victim’s educational opportunities.
These are staggering numbers considering many incidents are never reported. Using national studies, experts estimate that 50% of children who experience cyber bullying never report the problem to their parents. They also state that less than 10% of children inform someone about the bullying and 8% miss one day of school per month because of the bullying. All too often bullying goes unreported and has major impacts on the victims and their learning environments.
Parenting NH Magazine spoke with Carol Croteau, a parent and founder of Bully Free NH, about the 2014-2015 DOE report and she stated, “I still believe there is under-reporting by schools and cases that clearly fit the definition of the law are not being declared as bullying by school staff.” Districts might also be less motivated to support bullying and abuse victims for fear of legal actions.
New Hampshire created the Pupil Safety and Violence Prevention statute, RSA 193-F, in 2000 and the law was expanded in 2010 to specifically include bullying and cyber bullying. Unfortunately, bullying continues to be a pervasive problem in our schools.
Children need alternatives and educational options can provide an escape from bullying.
Even the best schools cannot meet a child’s needs if a student is bullied. In a nationwide study, EdChoice found that families indicate safety is a primary reason they want educational options.
A Georgia mom recently shared her story with EdChoice. The family wanted to switch schools because of abuse their daughter endured. She suffered panic attacks and needed medication to cope with severe anxiety.
“These kids are tormenting her,” she said, “She has always been a very funny child with a great personality… She is so traumatized that she will not go to the grocery store or any other store with me because she’s scared she will see a child from her class. She begs me every day to put her into another school.”
Florida is considering a state-funded scholarship for bullied and abused students to attend a different public school or a private school starting next year. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is quoted to say,
“Children who are subjected to violence and abuse at school deserve hope, dignity, and a real opportunity to succeed. No child should ever be afraid to go to school, and no child should have to continually suffer abuse. They deserve a way out.”
Educational opportunities can make a difference for New Hampshire students, too.
Following a bullying incident that sent him to the hospital, Mario Fusco and his younger brother, Kenny, were uncomfortable returning to their schools in the Kearsarge Regional School District. The school administration and staff were aware of the harassment, but were ineffective at stopping it. Fortunately, Mario and Kenny received support from the Children’s Scholarship Fund of NH to attend Bishop Brady High School where they thrive in a safe environment. Their mom, Kelly, said “It [the scholarships] was the best thing to ever happen for both my sons.”
Another New Hampshire student, Samuel Alicea, experienced bullying as a Merrimack Valley High School student. He reported racially-charged harassment as a student of color and for his political activism. During the 2016 football season he knelt during the national anthem at the beginning of football games. The maltreatment became intolerable when someone fired a BB gun through his grandmother’s windshield. After that incident, Samuel’s family decided to pursue educational alternatives for him. With the help of the Children’s Scholarship Fund of NH, he is now a student at Tilton School, where he is safe and doing well.
No student should suffer through bullying and harassment because their families cannot afford an alternative. Educational opportunities are an escape from bullying and must be available to more New Hampshire children.
We can put more options within reach for bullying victims by enacting Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) with Senate Bill 193. This bill was retained from the 2017 session and is being considered by the House Education Committee in early November. Contact them today, urging them to support SB 193. ESAs will not only provide an escape hatch for victims, but serve as a powerful incentive for districts to take bullying more seriously.
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