Freedom from fear, hostility and intimidation It is a basic democratic right for a student to feel secure and not be troubled by offensive or humiliating treatment. Schools can teach this during history and social studies classes. And staff can work to ensure that school policies honor student safety and foster a culture of kindness and acceptance, not one of aggression and intimidation. How? By enhancing bullying-prevention policies and protocols.
Making sure his students feel safe from intimidation and harassment is not only a priority for Richard Hagy, it’s a mandate that’s non-negotiable.
If he’s learned one thing in more than 30 years in education administration, it’s this: a culture of kindness and acceptance does much to advance academic outcomes, school safety and overall student well-being.
“I’ve been in this long enough to know that if kids do not feel safe, they won’t do well,” stresses Hagy, principal of 2000-student Mariner Middle School in Florida’s Lee County School District. Racial minorities comprise about 45 percent of the student body, and half are at or below the poverty line. Six are currently homeless.
Among programs at the top of Hagy’s priority list? Bullying prevention.
“If you look at incidents of student suicide or school violence, bullying behaviors are often a factor,” notes Hagy.
Among these incidents is Jeffrey Johnston, 15-year-old son of Florida teacher Debbie Johnston, who died by suicide after enduring two years of relentless cyberbullying by a classmate. Jeff’s death catalyzed efforts in Florida to propose legislation to boost school safety and violence prevention by prohibiting bullying or harassment.
“Bullying breeds a climate of fear and disrespect that is detrimental to our students,” adds Hagy . “Not addressing it proactively and with compassion is simply “not an option. We aspire to be an ‘A’ school and campus culture is integral to our achieving this.”