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How schools handle bullies

By JULIAN CAVAZOS
April 24, 2010 at 9 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2010 at 11:24 p.m.

Phoebe Prince

SUGGESTED BULLYING STATUTES FROM THE TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS:

Immediately bring it to the attention of a teacher, counselor, principal or district employee.

Any district employee who receives notice that a student has, or knows of someone who has experienced bullying, shall immediately notify the campus principal or designee.

The principal or designee shall determine whether the allegations in the report, if proven, would constitute prohibited conduct.

A written report will be filed by the principal or designee of the investigation, including why the bullying occurred. A copy will the be sent to the superintendent.

The principal or designee shall conduct an appropriate investigation based on the reported allegations. The district may also take action on the investigation.

A student who is dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation may seek an appeal.

Recent high-profile cases have amped up the bullying debate.

Consider: Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Massachusetts student who was bullied to point that she committed suicide; or, locally, Penny Lane Smith, a Victoria elementary school student who was shown a drawing of her head being blown off .

Most schools across the nation follow suggested state statutes on how to handle bullying. Some school districts take matters into their own hands.

Bullying Policies and Programs

Policies on bullying can vary from school district to school district nationally.

In Augusta, Ga., the Richmond County School System adopted a stricter policy in 1999 for secondary level students.

The policy states that if a student receives three bullying offenses in the same school year deemed by the principal, the student goes before a tribunal, said Louis E. Svehla, the school district's director of public information.

If the tribunal finds the student guilty, he or she will be assigned to an alternative school for six months, Svehla said.

This year, the Georgia school district also got the Augusta city mayor to declare February "Bullying Prevention Awareness" month, Svehla said.

Throughout the whole month, the school district's 32,000 students were taught the consequences of bullying, and how it affects bullying victims in the short-term and long-term, he said.

The number of bullying cases in their school district dropped from 23 in the 2008-09 school year to 14 this school year, Svehla said.

Svehla said he is not sure if the awareness month led to a lowering number of bullying cases.

"We continue to have this push for awareness," Svehla said. "If we can get the students to understand the negative impact as well as the negative consequences students face, I certainly think it will help lower those numbers."

Many school districts in Texas use statues suggested by the Texas Association of School Boards for their bullying policies.

The policies in school districts such as in Victoria, Edna and Bloomington are similar, as suggested by the TASB.

Individual school districts can adjust the association's policies if they like. As stated in the TASB's policy, students are encouraged to tell an adult at school if they are, or know someone, who is being bullied.

The matter is then taken into the school staff and administration's hands to be investigated, and possibly a punishment for the bully.

But besides the suggested policies, area school districts have additional anti-bullying methods they use.

The Bloomington school district has revamped its website to add a online anonymous bullying hotline.

"We've had it since about Christmas," said Brad Williams, Bloomington's superintendent. "We've had a couple use it."

Plans are to begin promoting the anti-bullying tool during the summer, he added.

Williams thinks the promotion of the site will increase its effectiveness, he said.

In Edna, if teachers or administrators hear rumors of bullying or of other serious conflicts, they sometimes monitor those students' social network pages to get any clues.

"We'll check their Facebook or MySpace pages when we have a heads up about a couple of kids," said Edna Superintendent Bob Wells. "We try to put out the fire before it spreads."

Edna ISD also has security cameras in school hallways to refer back to in case any bullying occurs.

In Victoria, elementary school students are encouraged to be "heroes, not bullies."

On some mornings, they listen to short stories about American heroes, such as Walt Disney, Rosa Parks and Thomas Jefferson.

Other mornings, students listen to stories about bullying.

On Friday, students at William Wood Elementary School heard a story about a bully who rubbed mud from his shoes all over a boy's new backpack.

After a teacher explained to the bully what he did wrong and that nobody is better than anyone else, the bully apologized and helped the boy clean the mud off his backpack.

Young kids pick up on these stories, said Pat Kutach, a counselor at Wood and Guadalupe Elementary School.

She recently overheard two elementary school students arguing with each other.

"I heard one kid say, 'You're being a bully, not a hero,'" Kutach said. "Obviously, they're picking it up. When I do lessons, we reinforce you need to be a hero, not a bully."

Kutach also has self-referral forms in each of the teachers' classrooms.

"I give it to the students if they have a concern. It can be bullying, or about something going on at home, or within themselves," Kutach said. "They fill it out and give it to the teacher and then they put it in my box."

Teachers can also refer their students to Kutach if they are concerned, she said.

Elementary school counselors in Victoria also set up a time once a week to talk to students about things such as self-respect and substance abuse resistance, said Diane Boyett, VISD communications specialist.

An Expert's Point of View

The best way schools can reduce bullying is to teach kids how to handle it, said Izzy Kalman, a New York bully expert who runs his website, www.Bullies2buddies.com.

Kalman teaches school administrators and staff nationally how to role play with students to know what to do when bullied, he said.

When a student tells a teacher he's been bullied, the teacher should say, "Do you believe him? No. I don't either.' Then, the matter is finished," Kalman said.

Kalman encourages victims of bullying to be the bullies' friend, he said.

"If you're mean to me, but I'm nice to you, it's very hard to be mean again," Kalman said. "You talk to them nicely, and before you know it, the hostility is over."

When kids who are bullied say things back to the bully like, "I'm not an idiot, you're an idiot," that just makes things worse, Kalman said.

Normally, "the natural thing to do is get angry when people get angry at us, but it escalates on both sides," Kalman said. "But if the other person calms down, it's hard to stay angry at someone who is not getting angry back at you."

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