ACA UPDATE: Bullying & School Climate Conference Highlights

Last week ACA staff participated in two separate national meetings focusing on school climate issues hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. First off, the department held the third annual Bullying Prevention Summit where they led the discussions about current research and initiatives that will support bullying prevention in the upcoming year. Secretary Arne Duncan told participants that anti-bullying policy is not keeping up with the amount of public awareness. He said our state laws are inconsistent with each other and largely lack enforcement mechanisms. Over the two day conference, ACA and other organizations gave the federal government feedback that initiatives should stop siloing bully prevention programs. Research shows that bullies usually act indiscriminately, targeting individuals across a wide range of personal characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, and having a disability.

Also last week, the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) within the Department of Education hosted a two day national conference titled Meeting the Challenge: Building and Sustaining Capacity to Improve Conditions for Learning. The conference was well attended by counselors, psychologists, administrators, school health center coordinators, national associations, non-profits, and federal agency staff members. It explored five prevailing and emerging issues that influence conditions for learning – school discipline; gender-based violence; behavioral health; bullying; and school safety. In each of the five “institutes” listed, school counselors were regularly mentioned as key players in the implementation of evidence-based programs.

School counselors are trained to implement holistic interventions and programs by addressing the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. This conference reflected on counseling skills and knowledge by framing education as a public health issue. One speaker reminded the audience of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basic survival and safety needs must first be met before students can succeed in the classroom. Numerous evidence-based programs were suggested to increase appropriate interventions and school safety including Response to Intervention (RTI), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Providing Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), Psychological First Aid (PFA), and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).

“Zero tolerance” was discussed at both conferences as a failing school policy. Attendees talked of how it largely disregards mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and can prevent communities from putting interventions in place to effectively interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

To watch Sec. Arne Duncan’s speech at the Bullying Prevention Summit, go to http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/USDepart. If you have comments or questions regarding the conference discussions, or about other school counseling issues, please feel free to contact me at jeagle@counseling.org.

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