Two Special Needs Students Get Bullied At School and Teachers Stand By and Watch

Within the past two weeks, two learning-disabled students have been brutally bullied at school or on a school bus. In one case, regular education students tormented a New York City girl diagnosed with Autism who was placed in a non-special needs classrooms with a personal aid to assist her. In another case, Roxanne Haskins of Appomattox, VA released a 40-minute video of her 10-year-old son being burned with a cigarette lighter and cursed with racial and sexual slurs by two 15-year-old boys. In both cases, education officials did nothing to intervene. In fact, most cases are caused by teachers influencing student behavior.

To stop this growing problem, the U.S. Department of Education should require all teachers to undergo training in Positive Behavioral Intervention (PBI). Such a program would teach students how to handle conflict instead of using punitive measures that cause bullying.

Teachers often use bullying to discipline students. Teachers want students to learn material that students view as irrelevant to their lives, such as Frankenstein and the author's opinion on 19th-century industrial England.

Students do not want to learn this material. They believe being forced to learn something not part of their daily lives is a form of oppression, with outsiders coming in and trying to impose their will on the students.

As a result, a power struggle ensues. Students begin to rebel by disrupting class. Teachers view this as a personal attack and start treating students disrespectfully. To get students to learn, teachers use punitive measures. In the end, this form of punishment turns into bullying.

Students learn bullying from this method of discipline. This influence leaves special needs students and any student viewed as “weird” or “different” vulnerable to excessive bullying. Students see how teachers bully students to get them to conform to teachers’ demands; when students see other students, who are different, they bully them the same way they see their teachers bully.

With more special needs students being mainstreamed into regular education, regular education teachers are becoming increasingly ill-suited to handle bullying of special needs students. For example, the New York City case resulted from regular education students harassing the special needs student for being “weird,” a concept the students learned from discipline methods. In the Appomattox case, the boy on the bus was tortured because the other students saw the bus driver using bullying techniques to discipline the children.

But with training in PBI, teachers can significantly decrease bullying. PBI is the method where teachers use positive reinforcements to discipline students instead of punitive measures. In this way, students learn proper social behavior that they would not necessarily receive at home.

Many experts have argued that parents are the cause of children’s behavioral problems. While parents do influence their children’s behavior, children’s behavior cannot change if their parents know no different. Education officials are the only means by which children can learn different behavior patterns.

PBI presents the best option to teach students better behavior. It shows students how to solve conflicts while still treating people in a humane way.

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Jacinda Chan

Jacinda graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a dual bachelor's degree in rhetoric and political science. She is currently pursuing a masters in international criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. She is fluent in German. Since then, she has done various research and writing internships covering Turkish politics at the Diplomatic Courier, writing reports on legal systems in the Middle East, and researching the entire human rights history of Iran and Egypt. At the Levin Institute, she wrote news analysis about human rights in Latin America.

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