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School bullying takes center stage at summit in Washington

By Sally Holland, CNN

  • The Education Department is holding its first-ever summit on school bullying
  • Study: Nearly a third of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in school
  • The summit looks to come up with a plan to reduce and end bullying

Washington (CNN) -- School bullying is the target of a two-day summit in Washington that kicked off Wednesday morning with Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying bullying undermines learning in schools.

"It is an absolute travesty of our educational system when students fear for their safety at school, worry about being bullied, or suffer discrimination, taunts, because of their ethnicity, their religion, sexual orientation, disability, or host of other reasons," said Duncan.

Just under a third of students ages 12-18 reported that they had been bullied in school in a recent study by the National Center for Education statistics. The study, done during the 2007-2008 school year, found that the harassment predominantly came in the form of "being made fun of" and "being the subject of rumors."

Bullying differs from teasing, according to Kevin Jennings with the Education Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which is hosting the first-ever summit on bullying. One reason is that bullying generally involves a power imbalance, he said..

"The key thing that defines bullying versus teasing is that bullying has ... an impact on the student's ability to achieve and to want to be at school," Jennings said. "Teasing sometimes is unpleasant but (if) it escalates to the point where you actually see students do worse in school or actually avoid areas in school or avoid coming to school, then it goes from teasing to bullying."

The bullying summit, which is being attended by government officials as well as superintendents, researchers, corporate leaders and students, looks to come up with a national plan to reduce and end bullying.

"Part of the reason we are focusing on bullying is we want to intervene in this cycle early on, before it escalates to harassment and violence and we have horrible incidents like we've all seen on the evening news that terrifies every parent in America," Jennings said.