Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Schools set the tone for bullying

Comic strip in three panels. The first panel's narrative reads, "When teachers bully." A human-looking rabbit says, "All right class ... everybody take hands." A girl and a human-looking cat are also in the frame. In the second frame, the rabbit says to the cat, "No one wants to hold your hand so you have to hold a pair of combs. The children next to you can hold the other ends." The cat has a sad look on her face. In the third panel, the rabbit happily says, "All right! Take hands!" The cat has an angry look on her face and her hands are on her waist. The narrative reads, "How I hated her ..."

Nine students face criminal charges in the suicide of Northampton teen Phoebe Prince (Boston Globe, March 30, www.boston.com). I believe school administrators should similarly be subjected to criminal prosecution.

Prince, 15, hung herself Jan. 14. Charges filed on March 29 against the high school students ranged from criminal harassment and civil rights violations to stalking and statutory rape. When filing the charges, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said Prince had been subjected to a nearly-three month campaign of "verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm."

Scheibel said her investigation determined the abuses were "common knowledge" among school administrators.

According to the Associated Press, an anti-bullying consultant said she'd advised parents and officials at Prince's school months before Prince hanged herself but that the officials didn't follow her advice. Barbara Coloroso told CBS's "The Early Show" that South Hadley schools "had policies, but the procedures need to be toughened up."

It's tempting to view this tragedy as remote, an isolated occurrence. But I know that bullying takes place here in Lake County schools -- and, that, moreover, school officials look the other way.

Consider a child who, when taunted on the playground, was told by an aide to go somewhere else. A child whose teacher told the child and her tormentor to work things out between themselves.

In response when hearing these accounts, I could only ask, "What is wrong with these people?" Exactly what is it going to take, to make our schools take bullying seriously?

If a bullied child later lashes out with violence, will school officials accept their share of the blame for having withheld earlier support? Should someone submit a claim for psychiatric costs to treat Complex PTSD that was based upon long-term bullying?

One Lake County district had to settle in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union because of abuse directed against a student for his perceived sexual identity. There are still Lake County students who face similar abuse.

I believe from first-hand experience that schools create the settings in which bullying is allowed to flourish. Even though the teachers weren't involved in the name-calling, the shoving and the systemic rejection that I endured from kindergarten on, I believe that teachers and administrators allowed this school culture to exist.

One teacher actively promoted it. When asking her students to join hands in a circle, she kept a supply of combs on hand. To children like me, with whom my classmates did not want to take hands, she gave a pair of combs -- one for each child on either side, who could then grasp the other end of the comb.

Please understand that these teachers of mine were otherwise well-meaning and decent, with the exception of the lady with the combs. She was evil incarnate to my elementary-school mind. But never-the-less, these well-meaning people put me on display as a school-wide outcast when, in PE, they had the most popular children choose sides for athletic teams.

I don't remember any attempts to quell bullying other than asking me to explain "how I felt" in front of the class.

I am grateful for tolerant officials who at least abstained from punishing me when I acted out from stress. The exterior wall of the principal's office bore visible signs of my rage -- black marks from my kicking it.

It angers me that, almost 25 years after I graduated from high school, bullying still takes place. It angers me, too, that programs exist such as "Challenge Day" and some administrators don't see a need to promote a school culture of acceptance. I only wish there had been a "Challenge Day" when I went to school.

The Konocti district uniquely has an anti-bullying policy in place. Board Policy 5131, "Conduct," explicitly prohibits: "Harassment of students or staff, including bullying, intimidation, so-called 'cyber-bullying,' hazing or initiation activity, ridicule, extortion, or any other verbal, written, or physical contact that causes or threatens to cause bodily harm or emotional suffering."

The policy requires that processes be established whereby complaints can be submitted anonymously.

"Complaints of bullying or harassment shall be investigated and resolved in accordance with site-level grievance procedures specified in AR 5145.7 -- Sexual Harassment." That is, any school employee to whom a complaint is made, must report it within 24 hours to the school principal or designee. Any school employee who observes an incident of bullying, is required to report it, whether or not the victim files a complaint.

How easy would it be for other districts to adopt -- and then enforce -- a similar policy. I hope that discussions of district consolidation present opportunities to do just that, instead of focusing upon how much money can be saved. Any discussions of consolidation must include zero tolerance for bullying at all Lake County schools.

Published April 6, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee

1 comment:

  1. A keyword search on the phrase “zero tolerance,” performed July 22, 2016, returned 14 usages in reference to bullying among writings on my blog, in which I expressed thoughts and concerns as a survivor of childhood bullying. But “zero tolerance” is imbued with specific meaning in the education community and, as a result, I need to clarify my past usage of this term:



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