Addressing Homophobic Bullying in Schools: Punitive Versus Supportive Strategies
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While all forms of bullying in schools are concerning, homophobic bullying—bullying based on the perception that someone is gay, lesbian, or bisexual—is especially harmful. Victims of homophobic bullying are more likely to have lower grades, drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, and report being depressed. Students who are bullied may also feel that they do not have close and supportive relationships with other students and teachers, a concept known as “school connectedness,” which can lead to academic problems. Schools have adopted two general approaches to address discipline issues, including bullying: 1) punitive practices, such as “zero tolerance” policies, suspension, and expulsion; and 2) supportive practices, such as counseling services and case-by-case discipline policies. We used surveys from 337,945 middle and high school students in California (California Healthy Kids Survey) and 62,447 teachers (California School Climate Survey) to understand student experiences of homophobic bullying and reports of school connectedness. Specifically, we examined: 1) the prevalence of homophobic bullying in schools with more supportive versus punitive practices; and 2) differences in school connectedness among students who had experienced homophobic bullying in schools with more supportive versus punitive practices.