Bullying in Jewish Day Schools

children around a menorah

No school is immune from bullying behavior.

A critical and unique feature of this Web site is the exploration of how bullying behavior is particularily complicated to deal with in the Jewish community. For instance, how do you tell a child to disconnect from one clique and make new friends when they go to a school and live in a community in which that group might be the only group? Or what about families that live in close proximity to one another — going to the same shul, frequenting the same social gatherings? The child who is targeted increasingly feels that no place is safe and is at risk of becoming more and more isolated. Parents sometimes have a challenging time modeling assertive behavior when the bullying behavior can effect their social lives as well, so they learn to do things on the sly. Our community starts to engage in behavior that is not reflective of what our schools are trying to teach our children.

General guidelines, important and research based as they are, do not always smoothly fit in a more insular community.

We as educators, administrators and mental health professionals need to increase our awareness, understanding and skill in preventing bullying behavior and intervening appropriately when it occurs.

We as parents also have to be conscious of the unique connections between other parents and the school. Unique to private schools is the financial component which can compromise an institution’s effectiveness in dealing with bullying. Where public schools adhere to state and federal guidelines in exchange for tax payer funding, Jewish day schools are entirely dependent on tuition paid by parents. In some instances, stakeholders in a day school may expect greater leniency shown to a child than would be considered reasonable or appropriate.

In an ideal world, we could expect every person to be the living embodiment of the Torah’s teaching, but this is a far from ideal reality. Instead, there are situations which involve a student who clearly is in the wrong. However, just as in life because of social status, level of involvement and/or contribution to the school, this can be challenging to address. In saying this, I want to be careful to point out that in many institutions the right and appropriate action is taken when a child has engaged in bullying behavior. There are also countless situations in which individuals make a conscious effort to remain neutral and put their trust in the school. Sometimes, just as in life, not everything is fair.

This is an intractable problem and one not usually mentioned, but it is a factor parents of the aggressor and the victim have to acknowledge. We can but hope that our schools will risk financial consequences while protecting the children.

Pages about Bullying on This Site

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