Two bullying bills before the Texas Legislature have attracted a lot of attention this session. Texans Care for Children has delivered testimony on what HB 224 (Strama) and SB 242 (Davis) might mean for school children here. As our mental health policy associate Josette Saxton explained to committees in each chamber, there are many strong elements in the bills to reduce and address bullying. One provision, however, would do neither, and Texas should explore a better alternative. Here is an excerpt from Josette's testimony:
[Let's] work to keep ALL students safe and able to succeed in school. Best practices in bullying prevention and intervention include strategies that focus on a school's social climate, establish and enforce school rules and policies related to bullying, make explicit the expectations for student behavior, intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations, provide staff training, and coordinate prevention activities.
Texans Care strongly supports several of the provisions in SB 242 as filed, including: development of school policies to provide appropriate assistance to both victims of bullying and students who engage in bullying behavior, and annual district reporting requirements to the Texas Education Agency on the number, rate and types of incidents of bullying. . . .
We [also] support the bill's original provisions that would have required annual training in effective bullying prevention and intervention for all administrators, teachers and staff.
We do not support SB 242's provision to allow school boards to transfer a student who engages in bullying behavior to another campus, believing this will lead to students being pushed out of their natural school environment instead of receiving appropriate interventions to prevent further bullying behavior from occurring or becoming worse. Removing a student will not solve the problem; it just transfers it to a new location. Students who were bullies are four times as likely to engage in criminal behavior
at the age of 24 years, with 60% of former bullies having at least one conviction and 35% to 40% having three or more convictions. An accountability mechanism is needed to ensure school districts comply with their bullying policies and that before a student's removal from a classroom or campus, a graduated continuum of effective interventions to help students change inappropriate behaviors have been employed.
A school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (SW-PBIS) approach would assist schools in identifying and implementing effective interventions that help students change aggressive behavior. SW-PBIS provides a framework for the use of research-informed instructional principles and practices to teach and reinforce behavioral expectations using a three-tiered model. This framework provides a natural pathway for schools to provide more intensive or targeted interventions to students who do not respond to primary prevention strategies. The implementation of SW-PBIS would better enable schools to effectively respond to bullying incidents, helping the student change problem behavior instead of pushing the student out of the class or campus.
Endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and supported by national education and behavioral experts, . . .SW-PBIS has been shown to:
Decrease in the number of suspensions, expulsions and out of school placements due to behavior problems
Increase student achievement and appropriate behavior
Increase sense of safety for students, teachers, and parents
Foster a school environment that is safer and more conducive to learning
Reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates
HB 1340 by Representative Walle would assist schools wanting to implement SW-PBIS by establishing a state behavior leadership team to examine data, identify needs and available resources, and make recommendations on how to align policies and resources to promote effective local implementation of SW-PBIS so as to promote positive outcomes for all students. The bill would not require schools to implement SW-PBIS. However, schools that choose to use this recommended approach would benefit from having state leadership and guidance in adopting, implementing and sustaining a continuum of research-based interventions to achieve positive behavioral and academic outcomes for all students.
To learn more about Bullying Prevention and Intervention, see resources from our February meeting of the Texas Children's Mental Health Forum
. To learn more about school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, see our chapter, Schools on the Frontlines for Children's Behavioral Health,
in A Report on the Bottom Line.