The U.S. Department of Bullying?

Posted by on August 9, 2010

There is a clear and intentional change in focus for federal school safety funding and policy by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools as presented in its proposed blueprint and budget for Fiscal Year 2011.  The bulk of funding from that office (over $400 million) is proposed to go toward a skewed emphasis on “climate,” which largely translates to “bullying” issues. 

In fairness, the head of that office, Kevin Jennings, has candidly acknowledged this is his priority, so I am not suggesting this shift is being done secretly.  In fact, he has been very open about this agenda.

I am, however, expressing concern that federal school safety funding and policy is being skewed in an imbalanced focus on “climate” (aka: “bullying”) without an incremental increase in attention to other areas and issues of school safety.  While bullying is a legitimate issue deserving of attention, other programs under the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools appear to be a footnote and pale in comparison to the bullying bandwagon being jumped on by everyone in DC and elsewhere around the nation.  Meanwhile, issues such as drug and violence prevention, gangs, school emergency planning, security staffing and funding, school resource officer programs, and other programmatic areas appear in budget, policy, and emphasis to be an after-thought in comparison to “climate” and “bullying.”

In early June, I stressed the need for bullying to be one component of a comprehensive and balanced approach to school safety.  This was the same message emphasized in my testimony to a House Joint Subcommittee hearing in Congress in 2009, something echoed by others, too.  I have also shared my concerns with Kevin Jennings, as well.

Still, the headlines from the U.S. Department of Education continue to scream, “Bullying, bullying, bullying.” On Friday, the Department issued the below media advisory announcing a two-day, “First-Ever Bullying Summit” on August 11-12th at the Washington Hilton Hotel.  Instead of a message of a “comprehensive and balanced” approach to school safety (a well acknowledged best practice approach in the school safety field), we continue to hear, “Bullying, bullying, bullying.” 

Not only is this skewed message concerning, but so is the image of the cost of a two-day “summit” at the Washington Hilton Hotel. What terrible timing to hold a largely PR event at an expensive DC hotel during a month when school safety coordinators are coming back to work (if they still have a job) with wiped out budgets thanks to the Congress and Administration eliminating the federal Safe and Drug Free Schools formula grant program effective July 1st of this year.  Does the federal government not have an auditorium somewhere at the U.S. Department of Education or other location where they could hold the meeting versus a DC hotel — especially when attendees will likely be from a select group of invitees from DC government agencies, education associations, non-profits, and Beltway Bandit contractors anyway? 

One has to assume this two-day event will cost the Department more than $10,000 to host the event at the hotel.  This is the same amount Congress and the Administration said was not enough for a local school district to do much with for school safety over the course of one school year under the now-eliminated Safe and Drug Free Schools program.  Perhaps this is good insight into how they reach such a mistaken conclusion since they can blow more than $10,000 in  two-days (rather than a year) for a “summit” / PR event?

Ken Trump

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U.S. Education Secretary to Keynote Department’s First-Ever Bullying Summit

Partners Will Come Together to Develop a National Strategy for Reducing and Ending Bullying


Jo Ann Webb or Elaine Quesinberry, (202) 401-1576,

Event Date 1 : August 11, 2010 – August 12, 2010

When children feel threatened, they cannot learn—that’s the message U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will deliver at the Department’s first-ever bullying summit to be held Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 11-12, at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. The goal of the summit is to engage governmental and nongovernmental partners in crafting a national strategy to reduce and end bullying. The Department’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools Kevin Jennings and Assistant Secretary for the Office for Civil Rights Russlyn Ali will join the Secretary for this two-day summit.

Administrator Mary Wakefield of the Health Resources and Services Administration; Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin; Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli; other representatives from the U.S. departments of Justice (DOJ), Agriculture (USDA), Defense (DOD) and Interior (DOI); superintendents; researchers; corporate leaders; community partners; and students also will attend the summit.

Secretary Duncan will give remarks at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, and Assistant Secretary Ali will give remarks on the civil rights issues surrounding bullying at 9:20 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12. Later, at noon Thursday, Assistant Deputy Secretary Jennings will close out the summit with a call to action for a comprehensive national effort to address bullying during the 2010-2011 school year by all summit participants. Senior officials from other federal agencies are speaking as well (see below).

The summit is hosted by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in conjunction with DOJ, HHS, USDA, DOD and DOI. It will focus on three areas: Research (what we know and additional gaps we need to fill); Programs (which programs work in combating bullying and areas where further programmatic development is needed); and Policy (how can policy at the local, state and federal levels help prevent bullying).

“Bullying behavior is not only troubling in and of itself but if left unaddressed, can quickly escalate into harassment, violence and tragedies,” Assistant Deputy Secretary Jennings says. “We hope this summit will help us get ahead of the game by focusing on prevention and doing everything we can to bring this plague to an end.”

Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Education has stepped up its efforts to address bullying to include a new Safe and Supportive Schools grant program, a pilot that will enable states to measure school safety at the building level and to provide federal funds for interventions in those schools with the greatest needs. In addition, the Department’s blueprint for reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act calls for a dramatic increase in funding for its Successful, Safe and Healthy Students grants program, which is an expansion of the Safe and Supportive Schools pilot.



Wednesday, Aug. 11
9 a.m. – U.S. Education Secretary Duncan speaks
1 p.m. – HRSA Administrator Wakefield speaks
1:15 p.m. – Surgeon General Benjamin speaks

Thursday, Aug. 12
8:40 a.m. – Associate Attorney General Perrelli speaks
9:20 a.m. – Assistant Secretary Ali speaks
Noon – Assistant Deputy Secretary Jennings speaks

Event 1

Who : U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Administrator Mary Wakefield, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin
Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, U.S. Department of Education
Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights, U.S. Department of Education
Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli
What : Bullying summit
When : Aug. 11-12, 2010
Where : Washington Hilton Hotel
1919 Connecticut Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “The U.S. Department of Bullying?

  1. What is needed from the USDOE is a comprehensive approach to school safety. That is the only model which has shown any long-term success. Certainly bullying is an issue, however, challenges to school safety come from many different areas. Here in central Indiana we are seeing growing gang issues (again) and the infulence of herion in the so called “donut” counties around Indianapolis. Schools need resources and help, not another self-serving conference in D.C. during the first week of school for most of central Indiana.

  2. Larry Ascough says:

    Bless your heart Ken. You are the best at what you do, but this piece sounds like sour grapes. Folks whose kids have and are being bullied don’t consider the topic a sidebar. And schools under great pressure to be more responsive to the problem are looking for help. If this summit had been about school safety would you have complained about the site and the cost, and called it a PR event? Calm down. No one believes the safe school business is going to dry up any time soon.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Larry. Please do re-read my blog and web site about bullying and anti-bullying laws. No where do I say bullying is a side bar. In fact, I specifically and repeatedly said just the opposite: It is an important issue and it needs to be addressed as a part of a comprehensive and balanced approach to school safety. I have also publicly shared how it has hit home in my family, so I know firsthand the personal side of the issue.

      Yes, schools are under great pressure on bullying now. But the pressure is not only coming from parents, but also from state and now federal legislators (often driven by special interest advocacy groups) with ineffective anti-bullying laws that don’t help front line administrators and staff. Bullying is also the hot topic of the day for the media, which also adds pressure.

      I don’t quite understand your question about had this summit been about school safety would I have complained about the site and called it a PR event? First, it was about school safety, but one narrow component of bullying. Second, you may not be aware that after attending the White House Conference on School Safety in 2006, I also spoke publicly and loudly, including in the media, about it being a waste.

      I do feel it is appropriate to challenge the costs given the very same Education Department eliminated the state grant component of Safe and Drug Free Schools this year, taking away those funds and leaving hanging for this entire school year during one of the worst education budget times. It is the same people in DC who spinned the justification for cutting Safe and Drug Free by saying that schools couldn’t do anyting with $10,000 in Safe and Drug Free dollars. I would be quite surprised if ED spent less than $10,000 for their two days of hotel space, refreshments, materials, expenses, etc. for this event.

      And you bet I say it is largely a PR event. You’ve been around the block long enough to know that there were strategically invited people and organizations. Or perhaps the Philadelphia girl who received a letter from President Obama last week just happened to be at the Hilton yesterday and Arne Duncan asked her to stop in for an ice water and his speech?

      I have said nothing about the safe school business drying up, Larry. What I am saying is that there is a broader political and social agenda masked under the guise of bullying, aka: a civil rights agenda, which was confirmed by ED speakers. I am also saying that we all know school safety requires a comprehensive and balanced approach, not a skewed focus on one issue any more than another. I have always said that a skewed focus on bullying or prevention is no more effective than a skewed focus on police in schools or emergency preparedness. The policy and funding emphasis here is very skewed.

      So I’m not sure, Larry, what you mean by “sour grapes.” I have nothing to be sour about aside from watching school safety being increasingly politicized and programmatically skewed in an imbalanced direction, and influenced by special interests with a social/political agenda which goes far beyond the face of professional school safety.

      Thanks for your thoughts!


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