- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BALTIMORE | The keynote speaker at a school law enforcement conference urged his colleagues Monday to develop ways to track and record bullying.

Hundreds of school administrators and law enforcement officers are gathering this week for the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) conference in Baltimore, where the theme is “anti-bullying.”

Monday’s keynote speaker, Baltimore County police Officer Darryl Hunter, told fellow officers that bullying awareness is a step in the right direction. Failure to stop bullying can ruin the learning atmosphere or, in some cases, end in tragedy, he said.

“The primary function of your brain is to make sure that you are safe,” he said. “Whenever there is a threat, the learning function of the brain takes a back seat.”

One strategy for addressing schoolhouse bullying, Officer Hunter said, was developing an adequate way to record and track bullying on campuses.

The conference’s theme was prompted by recent tragedies involving students who were bullied.

In April, two 11-year-old boys hanged themselves in separate cases in their bedroom closets. The boys, one of whom was from Georgia and the other from Massachusetts, complained of homophobic and physical threats made by students at their schools.

School resource officers are considered to be key players in preventing and resolving bullying incidents.

Dorothy Espelage, professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said school resource officers (SROs) develop an invaluable connection to troubled students and their families.

“If the SRO is well-trained, they have an opportunity to connect with students in ways teachers can’t,” she said. “That level of respect happens in positive school climates, where the officer is someone the students trust and don’t fear.”

A 2008 study conducted by Ms. Espelage and several colleagues found that high school students who reported being bullied, specifically homophobic teasing, were more likely to report experiencing depression and thoughts of suicide.

With the stakes so high, Ms. Espelage said she hoped a group such as NASRO would urge its members to seek child development training.

“We can’t just be putting out fires,” she said. “Where we are effective is where we get all the stake holders involved.”

Twenty-five states have had anti-bullying lawssince 2001, Officer Hunter said, with an additional 12 having enacted legislation to include cyberbullying.

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