(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
Yesterday, the New York Times told the tragic story of a student tormented for his ethnicity and sexual orientation who stabbed to death another student who had been harassing him and punched him in class:
“He was constantly taunted at school,” Ms. Hornback said. “I guess he felt his only way out of it was to resort to what he did.”
Ms. Hornback said Mr. Cedeno’s family was not trying to diminish what he did. But she said Mr. Cedeno’s mother had pleaded with staff members at the school for help protecting her son and had met with a guidance counselor there.
“There was no action from the school,” Ms. Hornback said.
Of course, it is impossible to say what would have happened in a different situation. But it’s also not far-fetched to imagine that things would have played out differently had Cedeno’s family had other educational options. Perhaps they could have used a voucher, tax-credit scholarship, or education savings account to place him in a safer learning environment. Alternatively, perhaps just knowing that parents had such options, the school might have taken the situation more seriously and intervened before reaching the boiling point.
Sadly, bullying is all too common. Can expanding school choice options help reduce bullying? That is the question Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight and I addressed in a recent blog post for EdChoice:
Why do bullying rates appear lower and responsiveness to bullying higher in private schools? We can speculate that when schools are selected by their students, they are more responsive to their needs and to family feedback. We do know for a fact that parents and students who are using the K–12 voucher program in Washington, D.C., believe their private schools are much safer, and parents often list safety as a top reason for choosing a private school.
Obviously, no parent wants to send her children to a school where they feel unsafe, and we are certain public school employees want the best for their students. But at the end of the day, a school system where students are assigned by geographic boundaries simply cannot have all the right answers for every child—and the results can be heartbreaking.
We are not here to pit public schools against private schools against other schooling types. We take a different approach: What might our communities’ schools—whether public, private or otherwise—learn from one another?
There’s no policy intervention that can possibly eliminate all bullying, but expanding educational options would create stronger incentives for schools to address instances of bullying and — if and when schools fail to address it — give bullied students a way out.