The Option to Escape Bullying

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

By now you’ve probably seen the heartbreaking video of Keaton Jones detailing the torments he suffers in the lunchroom. As Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight and I explained recently in Education Next, educational choice policies can give kids like Keaton a much-needed escape hatch — and provide schools with a stronger incentive to address bullying.

A Florida mom, Elsi Greciano, explains how school choice saved her daughter:

When my daughter [Maria] finished fifth grade, she begged me not to send her to the neighborhood middle school, because her tormenters would be there. So we enrolled her in an arts magnet. Maria loved the classes and was excited to start over.

But bad things kept happening. One boy groped her. Another humiliated her when she wouldn’t give him her phone number. When a teacher saw a group of boys taunting her in the cafeteria, she sent them to the principal, who suspended them. But then Maria heard the boys were going to beat her up because they got in trouble. She was so upset that she couldn’t sleep.

Sometimes the school tried to help. Sometimes it didn’t. After the cafeteria incident, I emailed the principal, but never heard back. That was the last straw.

We searched for private schools that would be good for Maria, and found One School of the Arts. It had a curriculum like the school we left, but a safe, family atmosphere. We fell in love with it.

We cut all our expenses so we could enroll Maria right away, then got a tax-credit scholarship. Four years later, Maria is in 10th grade and a totally different girl.

She’s confident. She speaks beautifully. She loves to debate in class. At the moment, she’s not sure whether she wants to be a missionary when she grows up, or a fashion designer, or president of the United States.

Fortunately, the Florida legislature is taking steps to ensure that bullied students like Maria and Keaton have other options. Florida already has a tax-credit scholarship program and an education savings account program, but not all students are eligible. The proposed Hope Scholarships would empower families of students who had been bullied or victims of abuse.

Hopefully other states will follow Florida’s lead.

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