WASHINGTON — Zero-tolerance policies are ineffective in combating bullying, an independent government advisory group says in urging schools to take a more preventative approach that includes teaching tolerance to address this “serious public health problem.”

In a report released Tuesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said bullying should no longer be dismissed as merely a matter of kids being kids. “Its prevalence perpetuates its normalization. But bullying is not a normal part of childhood,” the report said.

Schools should stop automatically suspending students for bullying, researchers said.

“There’s no evidence that they are impactful in a positive way,” said Catherine Bradshaw, a professor and associate dean at the University of Virginia, and part of the report committee. “They can actually do more harm than good and in fact don’t provide the skill training or replacement behaviors for youth that are suspended or expelled.”

The report also said zero-tolerance policies may lead to an underreporting of bullying because suspensions are perceived as too punitive.

Frederick Rivara, chairman of the committee and a professor at the University of Washington, cautioned that bullying has lasting negative consequences. “While there is not a quick fix … the evidence clearly supports preventive and interventional policy and practice,” he said.

Programs that teach children how to get along with one another and what to do if they see kids who are being bullied, are more effective, Rivara said.


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