Peer Mediation Is Inappropriate for Bullying

I was struck (no pun intended) by this recent news report — in which a Philadelphia student who was victimized by bullying was required by the school district to participate in a supervised meeting with the bully — and was again physically attacked by the bully during the meeting.

Many school districts have become enamored of “peer mediation” or other forms of supervised meetings between students in conflict.  The idea is to promote problem solving on a personal level and break down barriers between the students.

However, psychologists knowledgeable of the dynamics of bullying and harassment are almost uniform in their rejection of such techniques in instances  when a student has been targeted for bullying, as opposed to other forms of student-vs-student disputes.  They explain that bullying/harassment almost always has an element of a power imbalance (social status or otherwise) in which the target and the perpetrator do not meet on equal footing.  Peer mediation puts pressure on the targeted child to open their damaged emotions to the harasser, to accept apologies (heartfelt of contrived), or to otherwise “let things go” — all of which are inappropriate when a child has been victimized by another.  Targeted students may of course have such responses on their own, but they should not be put in a social situation that pressures them to do so.

The mental health experts state that such pressure can in fact be very harmful to the targeted child.  Indeed, it is really just a softer form of bullying that implies some fault or control on the part of the victim that may not reflect reality – and which this time is coming from the adults who are supposed to be protecting and supporting the targeted child.

I can’t imagine the emotional and psychological trauma that the targeted student in this news article is going through after being attacked in the presence of her so-called protectors during a meeting that they insisted she attend to resolve prior harassment.

Jerry Tanenbaum




School District personnel in New Jersey have the mistaken belief that they can deny parents of a child who was the target of school bullying the right to review the records of the school’s investigation, or the discipline the school imposed on the bullying student.  School personnel believe that, because disciplinary records are school records protected under the Family Education Records Protection Act, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232(g) (“FERPA”), they cannot release such records without the permission of the bullying student’s family.  This is error.

FERPA does protect records from disclosure, but it also provides a family with the absolute right to review any school record that is “directly related to” their child.  The United States Office of Civil Rights states, therefore, that a child who is harrassed by another student has the stautory right under FERPA to review the records that establish what the District actually did in response to the harrassment, including what disciplne may have been handed out to the offending student.   OCR, Dear Colleague Letter, 13 (Apr. 4, 2011).

Even if that information is retained in the other student’s records, the parent of the targeted child has the right to that information.  New Jersey state law also provides such access into portions of another student’s record to the extent it has information about your child.  N.J.A.C. 6A:32-7.1. 

This does not mean that you can obtain the other student’s entire record, or any information involving his or her behavior toward other students.  But you are entitled to see the limited portion of the other student’s record that details the specific discipline for his or her behavior toward your child, because that portion of the other student’s record “directly relates” to your child.

Obtaining this information can often be critical.  Absent such information, the targeted child may be afraid to return to school, or the parents may be afraid to send the child back into a possibly hostile environment.  Indeed, the child’s fear, and/or her perception that the administration is not fully supportive, might be the cause of additional social-emotional problems for the child.   If the targeted child misses multiple days of school, the District may even initiate truancy proceedings — further victimizing the already traumatized child.

As the U.S. Office of Civil Rights reasons:  the targeted child has the right to make an informed choice as to whether and under what conditions she will return to the school.   OCR, Revised Sexual Harrassment Preamble (Jan. 19, 2001)(addressing FERPA).  

Further, you may also need these records if your school district did not agree that bullying occured, or otherwise decided not to take action, so that you can mount an effective and meaningful challenge in an appeal to the School Board.

Bullying and harrassment can cause very serious and long lasting harm.  I have been assisting students with respect to school related harrassment for more than a decade.  If your child is involved in school related bullying or harrassment, and you are not satisifed with your District’s response, contact this office for forceful assistance.