School Apologizes for Sending the Wrong Message About Bullying

A Nebraska school is facing criticism for what many are calling an ill-intentioned effort to deal with bullying. Fifth-grade students at Zeman Elementary School in Lincoln were recently given pamphlets containing what may be considered tone-deaf advice, shaming the victim and sending the wrong message to bullies.

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The pamphlet, which was posted to sites such as Reddit and Jezebel, features nine "rules" for students dealing with bullies.  One rule states: "Do not tell on bullies."

"The number one reason bullies hate their victims, is because the victims tell on them," the flyer reasons. "Telling makes the bully want to retaliate. Tell an adult only when a real injury or crime (theft of something valuable) has occurred. Would we keep our friends if we tattled on them?"

This goes against most antibullying advice, which encourages young people to get a trusted adult involved in the situation before it escalates.

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Other rules in the Zeman Elementary guide included "Learn to laugh at yourself," "Do not verbally defend yourself," and "Treat the person who is being mean as if they are trying to help you."

After the pamphlet was sent home with kids, numerous parents complained to the school.  Some parents claimed that the tips weren't so much advice as they were ways to keep the school from having to discipline students.

Not long after the backlash, school officials at Zeman Elementary went on Facebook to issue an apology. (The school itself does not have an official Facebook page, so the post was sent via the Lincoln Public Schools, or LPS, page.) "Our educators at Zeman Elementary School work hard to provide accurate and appropriate lessons and education for our students in how to handle bullying situations," reads the statement. "The flyer was sent home with good intentions, unfortunately, it contained advice that did not accurately reflect LPS best practices regarding response to bullying incidents. We encourage all students and parents to continue to communicate with our staff if you have any questions or concerns about bullying situations."

But according to the LPS communications director, Mary Kay Roth, the flyers weren't supposed to be sent home with kids at all.  In a statement to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Roth referred to the flyer being distributed as a "staff issue" and added that "we're taking care of the staffing error."

Still, not everyone is buying the apology. "Whoever wrote this or was in charge of passing it out should step down or be fired immediately. You're pretty much saying you don't care about bullying and you're not going to deal with it unless the child incurs serious bodily harm," one outraged parent wrote on Facebook.

Another commenter wondered how the fallout would affect the students. "What have the students who were given bad information been told? Have they all been instructed that this was bad information and been given good information? Or is that being left to the parents?"

According to the student services director, Russ Uhing, who spoke with the Journal-Star, the school's fifth-graders are learning about bullying prevention in class, and the advice they're getting is "very different" from the "rules" they were initially given. Meanwhile, the school's Facebook apology included some more reasonable tools for dealing with bullying via a PDF link to a different flyer. Those updated tips, aimed at parents and kids alike, included “Do not minimize or make excuses for bullying behaviors,” “Promote a strong sense of self and confidence in your child,” and “Teach your child to take action when they see others being bullied.” Those tips are bound to be more helpful to kids than rules such as “Do not verbally defend yourself.”