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Harassed 14-year-old Doing Poorly in School

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: My 14-year-old niece is being harassed at school. She was approached by a boy (whom she wasn't interested in) and because of that she is being threatened and picked on by a group of girls. She gets shoved in the hallways and called names all the time. Unfortunately, the school doesn't do all that much, and a lot of the harassment happens off school grounds. Her parents were notified by the school, and they have done nothing. Her grades are dropping dramatically, and she used to be on the honor roll. Her mom is considering letting her live with me in another town to get her out of the situation, but she doesn't want to send her daughter away. We just don't know what to do.

A: Harassment is the number one cause of dropping out of school and of students, especially girls, not fulfilling their potential. Your niece should not be run off. Schools have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect students from harassment. Those that don't are facing lawsuits, and they are losing them.

My suggestion is for her parents to do several things right away -- I am presuming that they have met with the school counselor or the principal in charge of discipline and that perhaps some kind of mediation has been attempted. The next step is to set up a meeting with the principal and come prepared with a list of all the times, places, and people that have been involved in harassing their daughter. Calmly, but firmly they should tell the principal that the harassment must stop and ask what steps the school will take to make sure that it does. After discussion of what will be done -- and this might be many things -- they should ask "when, where, and how." Lastly, ask for a meeting in a couple of weeks to assess how the plan is progressing.

As for harassment taking place off school grounds -- especially any physical acts such shoving, pushing, and spitting -- go to the local police or the school resource officer and file an assault report on the students involved. There needs to be a record of the harassment and the victim's steps to resolve the issue. Don't worry about trying to prove it or not. That is the task of the police. It usually only takes one visit from an officer to one child to straighten out such issues.

Good luck to your niece and her parents. Please remind them that every student has a right to a safe and non-threatening education.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.

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