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Education & Labor Committee Republicans

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Statements by Rep. Platts and Rep. Castle During the Joint Subcommittee Hearing on "Strengthening School Safety Through Prevention of Bullying"

Today we are here to discuss the safety of our nation’s schools, with particular regard to bullying.

While the issue of bullying is nothing new, its ever-changing face has unfortunately kept it prevalent in our nation’s schools. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, between fifteen and twenty-five percent of United States students admitted to being bullied “sometimes” to “more often.” While we are all aware of the effect that bullying has on the mental health of students, attention is not always given to the significant impact bullying has on students’ academic performance and physical health. Recent studies have shown that lower rates of school attendance can be attributed to bullying. Children who are bullied are also more likely to have lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The physical effects of bullying can result in a multitude of health problems, including headaches, sleeping problems, and stomach ailments. Certain research even suggests that adults who were bullied as children are more likely than their non-bullied peers to suffer from depression and low self-esteem as adults.

Within the last ten years, bullying has reached beyond the physical walls of our classrooms through the increased use of technology, making it ever more difficult to detect. E-mail, text messages, chat rooms, and websites have provided a quick and often anonymous means of cyber bullying. In national surveys of ten to seventeen year olds, twice as many youth indicated that they had been victims and perpetrators of online bullying in 2005 compared to 1999. Thirty-six percent of twelve to seventeen year olds reported that someone said threatening or embarrassing things about them through e-mail, instant messages, web sites, chat rooms, or text messages.

A number of initiatives have been created to educate and prevent bullying. Organizations and educators have made parents more aware of the warning signs of bullying. Information has been made available to parents on how to prevent cyber bullying through increased monitoring of technology at home. Today, we will hear from Ms. Rona Kaufmann, Principal of William Penn Senior High School in my Congressional District. Ms. Kaufmann will share how the character education program implemented at her school has reduced the incidence of bullying.

I look forward to hearing the testimony from all of our witnesses today. As we move forward, it is vitally important that we all remain committed to ensuring that each and every student has the opportunity to be educated in an environment without fear, intimidation, or severe and pervasive insults. 

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I am pleased to be here today examining strengthening school safety through the prevention of bullying.

I am sure we can all agree that our nation's schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning, free of crime and violence, yet research in this area has shown that criminal incidents, including bullying, are prevalent in our nation's public elementary and secondary schools.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics found criminal incidents in about 86 percent of public elementary and secondary schools. Additionally, bullying and being bullied are associated with key violence-related behaviors, including carrying weapons, fighting, and sustaining injuries from fighting. We hear more each day about bullying occurring in schools and online. In fact, in 2007, 32 percent of 12-18 year old students reported being bullied at school and 4 percent of students reporting being cyber-bullied.

The issues of school crime and safety impact every state and Congressional district, no matter the size of the state or school location. Although my home state of Delaware enacted a bully prevention law last year, has a school crime reporting law in place, and an unsafe choice option policy was created after the passage of No Child Left Behind, 22 violent felonies and 572 cases of bullying statewide were reported to the Delaware Department of Education.

At the federal level, Congress has taken important steps towards reducing school crimes and violence to improve school safety with the enactment of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 2002.

The No Child Left Behind Act contains a number of provisions designed to provide states and school districts with resources to address school safety at elementary and secondary schools. This includes the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to provide federal funds to states and school districts to support drug and violence prevention efforts; provisions related to persistently dangerous schools, in which students may transfer to safer schools if they attend a school identified as being persistently dangerous; and the Partnerships in Character Education program, which provides funds to states and school districts to design and implement effective character education programs.

Additionally, the reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act makes an effort to reduce juvenile crime through the funding of prevention programs and activities which hold juveniles accountable for their actions, and by providing technical assistance, research, and dissemination of information on effective programs for combating juvenile crime. Additionally, the JJDPA provides assistance to state and local governments to address the problems of runaway and homeless youth.

The actions taken by states and the reauthorization of these bills have been major stepping stones in improving school and youth safety. The crime statistics, however, continue to alarm me, and I am hopeful that through this hearing, we can learn ways in which those at the federal, state, and local levels can continue to promote and improve school safety and prevent bullying and other school crimes in our nation's schools.

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