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Can fines prevent bullying?

Bullying is a growing problem in schools nationwide. With the advent of social media, it’s also become inescapable for some students, with several high-profile cases even resulting in suicide. Against this backdrop, some school districts, including some in Wisconsin, are taking aggressive action. The Sun Prairie Area School District is considering a monetary fine to prevent bullying, enforced by actual police officers. Could this be effective? And are changes to the law the best way to address bullying?

Raise A Bully, Get Fined

The Sun Prairie proposal is simple. If a child engages in bullying behavior—verbally, physically or even electronically—their parents can be fined between $50 and $1,000 depending on the severity. These fines would fall under law enforcement purview, which supporters claim will force the parents of bullies to engage in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.

Not The First

Despite the novelty of this approach, Sun Prairie isn’t the first school to try it. Several Wisconsin cities have passed similar ordinances, such as Shawano, which led the way in 2016. In that city, police officers will warn parents about their child’s behavior and give them 90 days to correct it. If the behavior continues, parents receive fines that start at $366 and increase for repeated offenses. Penalties are even harsher in other places, such as Tonawanda, NY, where parents can actually face jail time if they fail to curb their child’s bullying.

Will It Work?

Bullying fines are still too new to have been studied rigorously, so their effectiveness is currently unknown. Supporters believe they will force conversations about bullying in a way that hasn’t been possible before, while critics claim the fines will only create resentment and block communication channels between parents that could have been used to address the bullying in other ways.

Whatever happens, administrators will certainly be watching the rates of student injury and harassment in the coming years. If this avenue doesn’t work, others might. Eliminating bullying requires as many resources as we can muster.

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