Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bullying prevention involves an entire school

Local school districts are definitely not created equal when it comes to outlining student rights and responsibilities and getting that information to the public.

Among our four unified districts, Konocti’s policy seems the most in-depth and has a link on the district home page, It has entire sections that address various offenses directed by students toward their peers.

I couldn’t find district policies on Lakeport and Middletown sites and while I found Kelseyville’s district policy, the section that most closely approximated a defense of student welfare consisted of a standard notice that prohibits discrimination.

I could not find references to recourse for victims of bullying or other abuse on the Kelseyville policy Web page. Specified offenses toward students included “profanity” and “threats” but bullying such as teasing or put-downs doesn’t necessarily fall within these categories.

Terrace School in Lakeport hosted assemblies with guest speaker Michael Pritchard on Friday, Jan. 11, to address building a caring and safe school community.

Konocti school assemblies regularly address the problem of bullying and district consultant Monty Roberts is working with Konocti schools to teach that violence is never the answer.

But in their day-to-day reality, how aware are our local students of the avenues that are available to confront a bullying attempt? At Pomo Elementary School, students sign a pledge agreeing to “stamp out bullying.” The school’s principal, April Leiferman, gave me a copy of the pledge, which holds onlookers just as guilty if they fail to report or stop the bullying.

Bullies choose victims for their weakness and inability to defend themselves, which makes it all the more important that entire school communities be willing to address this problem.

Think about it: a victim has already been demoralized by being the victim of a bully who has a network of friends to rely upon while the victim, too often, does not. Does the victim know where to turn to report this
harassment? Will the complaint be taken seriously if he or she (or a third party) comes forward?

Are policies in place to ensure that pursuing a recourse will protect the victim from further abuse or will it merely pile on further social stigma for the victim among his or her peers?

Under no circumstances should bullying escalate until a victim is forced to resort to desperate, inappropriate measures. When a situation has progressed to the point when a victim responds with violence, he or she should face the consequences — but events leading up to that incident should be given due consideration.

In my opinion, under these circumstances, the district bears the greater share of blame for having turned a blind eye and for having withheld interventions that could have resolved the situation earlier

School assemblies should encourage third parties to be involved in bullying prevention.

Our local schools might also consider adopting anti-bullying pledges the way that Pomo Elementary has.
Any adults who are employed by the district and who come into contact with its students should be required by district policy to make referrals for discipline when inappropriate behavior is observed. It should not fall solely upon the victim to defend him- or herself from abuse.

Here’s what Konocti’s policy has to say about recourses against sexual harassment. The procedure also applies toward bullying with the district’s recent adoption of a new policy:
“Any student who feels that he/she is being or has been subjected to sexual harassment shall immediately contact his/her teacher or any other employee. A school employee to whom a complaint is made shall, within 24 hours of receiving the complaint, report it to the principal or designee.
“Any school employee who observes any incident of sexual harassment involving a student shall report this observation to the principal or designee, whether or not the victim files a complaint.”
I hope that the rest of our local districts adopt similar board policies about student rights, responsibilities and available forms of recourse. If they have already done so, I ask that they please make this information available through as widespread means as possible within their school communities.

Published Jan. 16, 2008 in the Clear Lake Observer American

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