The school is the space that most reliably reflects the social reality of a country and in which individuals from diverse nuclear families converge. The behavior learned in that universe of homes is displayed and repeated in the schools. This variety of behavior is what makes children and youths, in their process of growth and maturation, face conflicts that frequently result in violence. In fact, school violence is one of the most common problems faced by educators. Although there is no exact definition to explain what school violence is, in general terms, it refers to behavior that displays some type of aggression in the school setting. Common forms of this kind of violence are fights or physical aggression, threats and verbal aggression, harassment or bullying, and vandalism. These kinds of behavior are not limited to students but may also extend to other members of the school constituency, both teaching and non-teaching.
To understand the roots and causes of school violence, it is essential to consider factors that cannot be analyzed in isolation. As mentioned above, people who have been raised in a variety of ways converge in the schools. Their upbringing helps form the individual’s character and personality, the values learned, the way to respond to new situations and skills in handling and resolving conflicts, all of which can vary significantly. Many of the situations that children experience in the home are reflected in the schools. Family problems, including financial problems, mistreatment, domestic violence and abuse of controlled substances, among others, may lead to violent behavior. In addition to these situations are social problems that affect these children’s environment, such as social and economic inequality, unemployment and a lack of resources for providing the basic necessities in the home, and violence in the communications media and in social media.
School Harassment or Bullying
The majority of the cases of school violence are related to what is known as bullying, or school harassment. The U.S. web site stopbullying.gov defines bullying as “…unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” According to the website, the behavior is aggressive and the aggressors use their power to harass and manipulate others in what tends to be repetitive behavior. The aggressors use patterns of aggression such as humiliation and degradation of the victims.
UNESCO and the Institute of School Violence Prevention at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, published a report in 2017 that reveals that one fourth of children in the world suffer from harassment and violence in the schools. According to data from the Puerto Rico Department of Education and published in the newspaper Metro, during the first semester of the 2017-2018 school year, there were 1,647 interventions with students related to school harassment. Of those, 591 students were aggressors, 575 were victims, and 110 were observers; 371 of the cases were cyberbullying. The Department of Education told the periodical that 10% of the students in the public school system had been the objects of bullying. The Department of Education recognizes, as stated on its website, that it has the duty and responsibility to attend to the security of the schools and the populations they serve.
Current Public Policy on Addressing School Violence
The Puerto Rico Department of Education Constitutional Law 149 of July 15, 1999, as amended, establishes this governmental department’s responsibility in terms of security in the schools. Article 2.13 describes role of the school principal as the person in charge of promoting and maintaining an appropriate institutional climate for facilitating learning in a secure environment. Article 2.21 of the statute outlines the School Council’s obligation to work with the school principal to create security plans for the facility. Article 6.04 states that the Secretary of Education has the responsibility to establish a crisis management plan in case of violent incidents and to establish agreements for a coordinated response with government agencies that are responsible for handling violent situations in the schools.
Although the law requires that violence in the school must be addressed and although bullying has been discussed by the government agencies and officials responsible for implementing public policy, including prevention campaigns in the schools and in the media, this continues to be a serious problem faced by educators every day. In this setting, it is essential to examine available means of effectively increasing awareness among children and youths. At the same time, data should be gathered and analyzed in more efficient ways to shed light on the issue with the goal of implementing successful strategies that will lead to the eventual eradication of this form of violence.
Eliminating behavior that has become a prevailing social problem is a task that requires multi- and interdisciplinary approaches. It is extremely important that the trained and competent staff that the system depends on join forces to lay out integrated and comprehensive strategies to work effectively against school violence. It is imperative that data is used thoroughly to maximize the available resources and redouble efforts to contain the violence in the schools of Puerto Rico. It is not enough to set up protocols without also corroborating and evaluating whether they are observed and followed appropriately. The school is not merely a place for learning to survive at the most primitive levels. It is a space for coexistence that should be uplifting and exemplary for the whole of society.
El acoso y la violencia escolar afecta a uno de cada cuatro niños. UNESCO, 17 Jan. 2017, https://news.un.org/es/story/2017/01/1371791 Inter News Services. “1,647 casos de bullying en las escuelas públicas en cuestión de meses.” Metro [Guaynabo, Puerto Rico], 18 Apr. 2017, https://www.metro.pr/pr/noticias/2017/04/18/semestre-se-reportan-1647-casos-bullying-escuelas.html
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