Reality vs. Perception of Safe Schools

It comes in whispers. What few want to say. I’ve heard from some of the victims. Some of those who leave public schools for private ones because they asked for help, but no one would act.
Maybe they are Christians or maybe they have no faith at all. But they seek asylum in what they hope is a safe place. Where they can be safe from their tormentors.
Some were bullied.
One was sexually assaulted. But administrators didn’t want to call the police. They didn’t want a scandal.
Because if no one hears about bullying and crime in our schools, no one will realize it is real. And it is where our kids are.
I’m a biased observer, you may say. I’ve only taught at Christian schools. I only see one side. The public schools are good–for most kids. What do I know?
But I also teach at a secular university. And the rules are different there. The difference is there actually are rules regarding the reporting of abuse and other crimes.
The competition for university students is a big deal in the business of higher education. So colleges would be highly motivated to keep quiet about crimes on campus. But federal law requires colleges to report–to quickly report–any crime alleged to have occurred on campus.
I–along with every other instructor, student, and campus employee–receive a text every time someone reports a theft, an assault, a rape. As an instructor, I am required to report crimes I witness on campus.
And under Title IX, I am required to report harassment of any kind to the proper university official.
We can’t sweep abuse and crime under the campus carpet and pretend it doesn’t happen. Well, we can, but we may pay a big price if we do.
The law that holds us accountable came about after Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student, was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986.  Her parents sued the university, arguing that, had the family understood the incidence of crime on that campus, Clery would have chosen another school. She would not be dead.
The family’s suit prevailed.  The Clery Act became law.
Aside from child abuse regulations, there is no such law requiring elementary or secondary schools–public or private–to report abuse and crimes that occur on their grounds. They don’t have to report student on student crime.
For many administrators, it’s not a safety issue. It’s a public relations issue. And so priorities have shifted from students to appearances. From the reality to a false perception. And in the fog, the kids get lost.
Some kids just get lost in big schools. And some private–even religious schools–lose themselves when they get too big or feel beholden to a big donor family or an athlete who puts the school name in the local paper.
So some kids leave quietly. Some, who can’t afford private school tuition or have nowhere else to go, stay and suffer.
And sometimes, those kids end up deciding to end their own misery as a 12-year-old student did recently in my city.
In the meantime, we build bigger school buildings and bus more kids to them. They are mini-cities–too big to manage. A Lord of the Flies environment with Piggies waiting to be pushed off the cliff. And some jumping to their own deaths.
Schools need to notify parents when bullying occurs. And when parents ask schools to intervene because bullies are making their child’s life miserable, administrators need to act.
And we need a law to mandate reporting. We can’t trust school officials to stay honest about what goes on behind a wall of falsely constructed perception.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

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