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Custodial and Maintenance Services ESPs and Bullying Prevention

Custodians Witness Bullying All Around the School

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Bullying behavior is a growing concern amon America’s educators. Bullying is defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as an attack or intimidation intended to cause fear, distress or harm, either physical, verbal or psychological. Bullying involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the students involved, and it is repeated attacks or intimidation between the same students over time. Examples of phyical forms of bullying include hitting or stealing; verba bullying includes threatening, name calling, or spreading rumors, for example; and psychological bullying include behaviors such as socially rejecting and isolating someone, or cyberbullying (where perpetrators can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2011), more than 70 percent of students play some role i bullying, whether as one who bullies, is bullied, or witnesses bullying. A U.S. Department of Education study found that in 2006-2007, one-third of U.S. students 12 through 18 reported being bullied. Students who have been bullied report feeling depressed, anxious, and isolated. Many have low self-esteem. Their school attendance and performance may suffer. And in some cases, as the nation has seen recently, they are so tormented, they take their own lives.

Even though there are many training programs that can provide educators with tools to intervene in bullying situ tions, bullying often occurs outside the classroom, beyond teachers’ reach. Research consistently shows, and custodians confirm, that bullying often occurs where there is little adult supervision—such as between classes in the hallway and stairwells and in bathrooms and locker rooms. Often, well-intentioned bullying prevention programs don’t take this into consideration, missing the opportunity to inform custodial and maintenance staff about how to intervene in bullying situations.

Custodial and maintenance services personnel are often the only staff members, other than the principal, who have keys to the entire building and who have authority to walk through every part of the school campus. Thus, custodians report they often find students hiding in the basement, in a closet, in a bathroom, or in a far corner of the school grounds out of fear of being bullied.

In addition, studies show that students who are bullied often feel more comfortable confiding in someone other than the teacher or other authority figure. Also, since custodial and maintenance services staff are from the community, they are likely to know students’ names, which is helpful i making students feel connected to the school. They also are uniquely positioned to understand local factors that may be affecting students’ behaviors when they’re not in class.

What Custodial and Maintenance Employees Said

NEA has long been committed to bullying and harassment prevention and intervention. For decades, members have received training on how to recognize and intervene in student-to-student bullying situations. NEA conducted a nationwide survey of 4,870 ESPs in 2012 that included questions about their experiences with bullying. Among the respondents, 426 were custodial or mainte- nance staff. Highlights of their responses are presented below.

They see bullying as a problem in their school. 39.6% of custodians surveyed said bullying was a major or a moderate problem in their school. They viewed bullying as significantly less of a problem at their school than did other ESPs.

They witness bullying. Those custodians who were surveyed were less likely than other ESPs to report seeing a student being bullied at their school. However, 5% of them reported witnessing it as fre- quently as several times a month. Nearly 6% saw bullying daily.

Custodial and maintenance workers are less likely to hear reports of bullying from students than most other EsPs. Approximately 9% of the custodial ESP surveyed indicated that a student reported bullying to them within the past month.

They feel it's their job to intervene. A majority of custodi- ans surveyed—82.9%—reported that it is “their job” to intervene when they see bullying situations.

They need training on bullying prevention and intervention. Nearly all the custodial ESP surveyed reported that their school district has a bullying policy, but fewer than 31% of them said they received training on that policy. 

They need to be invited/encouraged to join school committees on bullying prevention. Among all ESPs, custodial and maintenance workers are one of the least likely groups to be involved in formal bullying prevention efforts in their schools. Only 6% reported being involved in formal school teams, com- mittees, or prevention programs dealing with bullying.

An NEA survey conducted in 2010 examined connectedness among staff members. Connectedness influences bullying intervention. Generally speaking, ESPs report feeling slightly more connected to their school community than teachers. Connectedness is the belief by adults in the school that they are regarded as individuals and professionals involved in the learning process. Research has shown there is an important link between feeling connected to the school and being comfortable intervening with all forms of bully- ing among all types of students. The more staff members, including custodial ESPs, feel connected to their school, the more likely they are to intervene and stop bullying when they see it.

They are likely to live in their school community. The ESP survey found that 67% of custodial and maintenance ESPs live in the school community where they work; this is considerably higher than the 38.7% of teachers who live in the community served by the school. This means they know the students and their families, and can be an invaluable resource when seeking answers to bullying incidents.

Inform Yourself and Your Association

  • Visit, a good go-to source for resources about how to help bullied students and how to prevent bullying in your school. „
  • Seek input and collect data from other school staff to whom students go for support.
  • Request a bullying prevention and intervention training session from NEA at (there is a training link). Make sure the training is scheduled at a time that is convenient for custodial and maintenance ESPs to attend.
  • Ask your school district to provide training on the content policies for bullying prevention and intervention. Work with your local affiliate to ensure these trainings are scheduled at times that are convenient for custodial and maintenance ESPs to attend along with other school staff.
  • Become involved in bullying prevention teams, committees, and other activities at your school or Education Association.
  • Initiate meetings with other staff to share concerns about bullying in general or specific students in particular.

NEA’s official website for the NEA Bully Free: It Starts with Me campaign.
Guidance on bullying from the U.S. Department of Education.
National PTA guide on safeguarding children from bullying.
Education Support Professionals website with links to bullying resources, including the 2010 NEA Nationwide Study of Bullying.
Educator Tip Sheets are available, such as How to Intervene to Stop Bullying: Tips for On-the-Spot Intervention at School.
2012 report comparing results of 2010 Teacher and ESP Bullying Survey with results of questions on 2012 ESP Member Survey regarding bullying.


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