A Washington Post analysis found nearly 200 incidents in recent years when a bullied student took his or her own life. Some schools are paying out millions and changing policies.

Donna St George:

Families argue that schools have a legal obligation to keep children safe, and many political leaders agree: Fifty states have enacted laws to combat school bullying. But in day-to-day school life, some policies are not robust, and others are not enforced. And advocates say that a belief persists in some communities that bullying is part of childhood and that “kids will be kids.”

Efforts to curtail bullying are not a priority for many schools across the nation, especially after the pandemic left schools with even greater needs than before, said Dorothy Espelage, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied the issue for three decades. “It’s not just North Carolina,” she said. “It’s all over this country.”

The National School Boards Association declined an interview for this story. Several school systems with recent cases have defended their actions, saying they handle bullying properly, and many say they are committed to safe schools. Some districts did not respond to inquiries from The Post.

Experts point out that bullying does not “cause” suicide, which typically happens for a complex set of reasons. A student who is being bullied may also struggle with mental illness, early childhood trauma, family conflict, sexual or gender identity issues, or many other challenges.