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EDITORIAL: Bullying and school choice

School choice is rightfully touted as a way to improve student achievement and campus accountability through competition. But school choice is a solution for another problem in our schools: bullying.

The increasing emphasis on the prevention of bullying in schools is vitally important because children who spend the day frightened for their safety or humiliated by insults can’t focus on instruction and studies. Childhood bullying can cause lifelong psychological damage and, in the worst incidents, make kids contemplate or commit suicide.

However, anti-bullying initiatives will never stop all bullying. How grown-ups respond to bullying and punish bullies is every bit as important as any campaign against cruelty. Teachers and school officials can remind kids every week to be kind and have the courage to come forward if they’ve been victimized by another child, but if a student tells a teacher she has been bullied and the bullying continues, and if parents aren’t notified that their child has been harmed, the problem is made worse. Bullying victims will quickly realize no one is standing up for them, and bullies will be emboldened to increase their aggression.

A pair of recent stories suggest the Clark County School District has major deficiencies in the way its educators respond to bullying — and that parents of bullied children must seriously consider switching schools to protect them from further immediate harm.

In December, White Middle School student Hailee Lamberth killed herself after being bullied, and her family was not notified of the bullying report in her student file. Her father, Jason Lamberth, finally saw the report — after her daughter’s death — because he received a tip to request it. And after the school district stalled in responding to Mr. Lamberth’s requests for a meeting with officials, he addressed the School Board before the public to make sure everyone knew the system had failed Hailee.

Last week, as reported by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, a lawsuit was filed against the school district by the parents of two boys who claim they were sexually, physically and verbally bullied by other students over a period of months at Greenspun Junior High School in 2011. According to the lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the boys received little help from school officials, and school police actively discouraged their parents from filing an official report.

The boys allege they were tormented in band class over their “perceived sexual orientation.” One was stabbed in the groin with a pencil, requiring medical attention. The band teacher refused to move a boy away from a bully, the lawsuit says. Although all school district staff are required to report bullying incidents to principals, no report was filed in this case. According to the lawsuit, the school administration’s response to complaints from the boys’ parents ranged from unproductive to nonexistent.

So the parents exercised the ultimate choice: They removed their sons from Greenspun in early 2012. Good for them.

Every parent in every part of town should have a choice of where to send their children to school, regardless of whether they can afford private school tuition. Vouchers and charter schools can provide options, but Nevada lacks the former and doesn’t have enough of the latter.

Such choices generally play out in the spring and summer. But these heartbreaking, maddening bullying incidents show some parents need options year-round, on a moment’s notice. No child should be stuck in a lousy school, and no child should be forced to endure bullying — or a school system’s failure to respond to it.

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