The family of a boy who committed suicide after being the target of bullies at school has become the face of an effort to mandate family notification of bullying at schools in New York state. But while it might seem like an easy thing to fix, some say that parental notification can sometimes add to the problem of a bullied child.
An upstate couple said that neither their son nor his school ever told them the boy was having trouble with his peers, but on the day he shot himself, the 13-year-old left his parents a note saying "I just can't deal with all the bullies" and that he was "done with being pushed, punched, tripped."
Legislation under consideration in Albany would require parental notification. But while establishing this rule might naturally seem like the right thing to do, there is another side of the coin.
Because some students get bullied because they are gay, lesbian or transgender, LGBT advocates argue that mandatory notification policies violate a student's right to privacy by outing them to their parents and that these students might be reluctant to report bullying to school officials because their families might not be the least bit understanding or supportive about their sexuality or gender identity.
There is compelling evidence that some families are blindsided by revelations that their child has been bullied. And children with supportive home lives might benefit greatly by having the adults in their lives know what's going on in school.
But if parental notification has the potential to make a student's life more chaotic, rather than less, schools need to be careful about how to proceed.
There needs to be way to find a compromise. Rather than mandate a rigid statewide policy regarding notification, it might be better if New York schools retain some flexibility. It might be better to be somewhat general in what is revealed to families in cases where specific information about a student might cause more harm than good.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.