NJ Takes Lead - School Nurses in Key Position to Combat Bullying

Sep 22, 2011, 2:30 PM, Posted by Tracy Perron

Tracy Perron, MSN, RN, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Jersey Nursing Scholar. Her research is on school bullying. This post originally appeared on the blog of the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, a project of RWJF and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Click here to see the original post.

Bullying is no longer considered a “rite of passage” or “what kids do” but instead has become an increasingly serious problem that can have deadly consequences.

On September 22, 2010 Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington Bridge, just days after his roommate allegedly took a video of his romantic encounter with a man and streamed it on the Internet. Within weeks of the teen’s death the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie formed a task force to begin the process of enacting the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. The New Jersey Senate passed the bill on November 22, 2010, just two months after Clementi’s death.

On January 6, 2011 Christie signed the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights; this is the toughest anti-bullying law in the country. The new law can charge students with criminal harassment, criminal battery, stalking and violation of civil rights.

In order to comply with the new legislation, every school will have to appoint an anti-bullying specialist, coordinator and safety team. All schools will have a parent, teacher, paraprofessional and student representative as part of the safety team. School districts will be graded by the state on how they address bullying.

Children who experience bullying have both psychological and physical symptoms. Children experiencing symptoms related to being bullied may find their way to the school nurse’s office. Sometimes, the link between the visit to the nurse and bullying are obvious, like injuries from fighting related to bullying. But sometimes it might not be so obvious; victims of bullying can exhibit a wide range of both physical and psychological symptoms including: stomach ache, feeling tense or nervous, fatigue, irritability, headaches, severe depression, and school avoidance. These youths may be looking for an escape from the hallways, playgrounds or gym class and seek refuge in the nurse’s office.

Children need to feel safe at school and the school nurse is considered a “safe zone.” This is because the school nurse is not viewed by the students as directly related to the academic or discipline aspects of the school environment. Therefore school nurses are in a position to combat bullying.

Keeping track of nurse’s visits is one way the schools can keep an eye out for who might be involved with bullying. The school nurse can collaborate with physicians, teachers, guidance counselors, mental health professionals, and even law enforcement to combat bullying. The school nurse can also lead prevention efforts, contribute to the school wide or district wide anti-bullying safety team, train faculty and staff on how to identify bullying and how to intervene, train faculty and staff on the signs and symptoms of depression and work with individual students and their families.

Bullying is a community problem, therefore it is imperative that healthcare providers, teachers, parents, clergy, law enforcement and other members of the community get involved and intervene whenever bullying happens.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.