Nearly every state has passed a “safe school law” to protect students from harassment and bullying. However, many of these states have seen varying degrees of implementation within their schools. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Forty-nine states have safe school laws and very few, if any, are funded. This means schools receive little support on how to implement laws, or the necessary training needed to reduce and prevent bullying. The reasons these laws have come into existence in the first place is because the data shows that bullying is preventable and that it can cause long term negative effects for society if not addressed.
- Many of the most utilized bullying prevention programs and practices have shown little evidence of effectiveness within the United States, particularly for urban populations.
- When such approaches are implemented without attention to key components of organizational capacity such as teacher and student engagement and empowerment, they often cannot permeate an existing culture of aggression and bias.
- Schools are additionally challenged to address multiple issues—from academics to bullying—and often will direct attention primarily towards those issues for which they will be publicly recognized or ridiculed, and do so in an uncoordinated and fragmented way.
With all the above in mind, we set out to provide a framework that helps schools. We convened a variety of NGO’s, bullying prevention specialists, state and federal experts on school climate, and constituency groups. For this work we received the “Best Nonprofit Collaboration” Award and we were invited to present the certification framework at the first National Summit on Bullying Prevention sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010.
The SSC framework was designed to address two key components of creating safe schools: (1) Policy: Ensuring that schools have successfully adopted required safe school laws and (2) Practice: providing the technical assistance and support around a framework of eight elements that can create policy fidelity and sustain safe school climates: Buy-In; Leadership; Data; Family and Community Engagement; Programs and Practices; Training; Student Engagement; and Enforcement.
Two Key Components
- Policy: Letter of the Law: Schools must be compliant with their state’s safe school law in order to participate. To determine this, SSC staff performs an audit of the school’s policy, ensuring that the school is compliant with all elements of the law. If the school is compliant it is eligible for full certification. If the school is not, recommended steps the school needs to take to become law compliant are provided.
- Practice: Spirit of the Law: A school works with SSC staff to assess their current reality surrounding bullying and prevention within the certification’s eight elements. Each school has the flexibility and autonomy to devise ways of accomplishing each element based on the expert support and guidance they receive from SSC staff, as long as these efforts meet the core intent of each element. An external certification team, made up of educational leaders and experts in school climate and bullying prevention, will receive artifacts and materials that demonstrate how a school has completed each element, and will provide feedback on whether the school’s efforts are sufficient. Once a school has achieved satisfaction in all eight areas, certification is bestowed upon a school and honored for its work.
By design, the intensive training allows the school to gain the skills and tools to sustain efforts around each of the elements after hands-on services conclude.
Since 2009, SSC began providing technical assistance to high schools across the state of Iowa to ensure the effectiveness of their safe schools efforts. Although this initial pilot is still underway, SSC has seen promising results by ensuring schools are law compliant within their anti-bullying policies. Initially, a review of these 34 school’s policies found that only 32% were 100% compliant. Via SSC technical assistance all of these schools now have the guidance to become 100% compliant. Recent research indicates a policy effect, in that schools that implement policies with fidelity reduce odds of bullying, making certification a crucial tool in safe school efforts.
Currently, SSC is primarily funded by a portion of the Iowa Safe and Supportive Schools (IS3) Grant which was awarded to the state of Iowa by the U.S. Department of Education in late 2010. The grant focuses on statewide efforts to assess and improve the learning environment of all schools. The SSC was incorporated into the work of IS3 to ensure Iowa high schools taking part had the technical assistance to ensure effectiveness of their safe schools efforts.
Recently, SSC partnered with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to expand to two locations outside of Iowa: Washington, D.C. and Chicago. We are also working with the Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition and the Q Center to pilot the framework with schools in the Portland area. Our goal is to make our services available to schools across the United States that need a clear framework to address bullying and recognize those that are doing quality work.
We define bullying as aggression between school-aged youth that is typically repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, that is done in a relationship characterized by a power imbalance (see http://bullying.rfkcenter.org/what-is-seatbelt/bullying-prevention/what-is-bullying/)
Farrington, D. P. & Ttofi, M.M. (2009). School-based programs to reduce bullying and victimization. The Campbell Collaboration
Boyce, M. (2003). Organizational learning is essential to achieving and sustaining change in higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 28(2), 119-136; Glover, D., Cartwright, N. Gough, G., & Johnson, M. (1998). The introduction of anti-bullying policies: Do policies help in the management of change? School Leadership and Management, 18(1), 89-105
 Crosse, S. et al. (2011). Prevalence and Implementation Fidelity of Research-Based Prevention Programs in Public Schools. U.S. Department of Education
 Ramirez, Marizen, MPH, PhD and Erica Spies, PhDc, University of Iowa. “Evaluation of Iowa’s Anti-Bullying Legislation: Compliance and Impact.” PowerPoint presentation. Des Moines, IA. 28 Feb 2013.