Legislation urged to introduce anti-bullying code for schools

Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 00:00

SCHOOLS:LEGISLATION COMPELLING schools to have strong anti-bullying codes which would cover incidents outside school should be introduced here, one of the State’s foremost experts on combating bullying has said.

Dr Móna Moore, founder and director of the Anti-Bullying Research Centre in Trinity College Dublin, was speaking in advance of the publication of European guidelines on preventing cyber-bullying next month.

“If schools can’t get their act together to address the fact this is a serious and growing health issue for young people and one that impacts on their ability to learn, I would not be afraid of legislation,” she said.

Dr Moore was one of 13 members of the Cost (the European framework for Co-operation in Science and Technology) working group which drew up the Guidelines for Preventing Cyber Bullying in the School Environment.

Cyber-bullying is described in the guidelines as “a significant problem which can threaten the health, well-being and attainment of victims and adversely affect the climate of the peer group and school”.

“Given that cyber-bullying appears to occur more frequently outside of school hours, developing parents’ awareness about cyber-bullying is crucial,” says the guide.

Dr Moore, speaking yesterday, went further in urging legislation on the issue.

She said she would like to see anti-bullying legislation enacted in the US state of Massachusetts in May 2010 replicated here.

Drawn up in the wake of the Phoebe Prince case, the Act Relative To Bullying in Schools explicitly prohibits bullying outside the school, even at a function or activity which is not school-related, if that bullying adversely affects the young person’s ability to learn or to attend school, or if it “substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school”.

Phoebe Prince (15), an Irish girl, took her own life at her home in South Huddle, Massachusetts, in January 2010 following months of verbal and cyber-bullying by school classmates. Those accused of bullying her were tried in 2011 and sentences of probation and community service were handed down after guilty pleas.

The new Cost guidelines stress the importance of a clear, proactive whole-school approach to combating cyber-bullying, as well as the need to encourage young people not to be bystanders to bullying, but to intervene.

“All members of the school community – teachers, parents and students – need to collaborate in order to combat cyber-bullying,” it says. “It should not be a question of when does parental responsibility end and the school’s responsibility start but how do we make cyber-bullying a more shared responsibility.”