Efforts to make bullying unacceptable not easy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
Dr. Susan Crawley considers bullying to be a form of child abuse.
“When you start talking about it that way I think people begin to take it more seriously,” she said.
Crawley, a child psychologist with Carolinas Medical Center Northeast, said schools need to create a culture where bullying is viewed as uncool.
“It can’t just be an assembly or the guidance counselor coming to the class once, it has to be a long-term program that educates about individual differences, helps children develop empathy and actually empowers teachers to make it stop,” she said.
Carol Ann Houpe, LINKS program coordinator, said the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s use of the Olweus Bully Prevention Program, a noted anti-bullying program affiliated with Clemson University, does just that.
“The emphasis around the whole program is moving the norm so that students are not going to bully each other because it’s not accepted at their school,” she said.
Overton Elementary launched the Olweus program last year and Houpe said she expects it to be implemented in all 20 of the school system’s elementary schools by the end of next academic year.
“It’s a program that addresses not just the kids who have the bullying behavior and the kids who are being bullied, but the whole school so that makes it more effective,” Houpe said.
The comprehensive program include training a bullying prevention committee made up of one teacher from each grade level, parents and community members, Houpe said.
The community piece is key, Houpe said. She hopes local businesses will start displaying signs to encourage mutual respect and deter bullying.
“It fosters the idea that wherever the kids might go that bullying behavior is not acceptable,” she said.
Houpe said the Olweus program also teaches students to avoid being bystanders.
“It helps students see that we’re all responsible even if we’re not the ones with the bullying behavior,” she said. “If we’re a witness or we just stand there or laugh we have a part in it.
Houpe said by adding bullying prevention programs to elementary schools the hope is to nix the issues before it grows in middle and high schools.
“I think with any program you want to really start before it is an issue so it doesn’t become an issue,” she said.
The Second Step program is being implemented at the middle school level to alleviate bullying. The program, used in health classes, focuses on topics related to bullying such as violence prevention and peer pressure, Houpe said.
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Crawley said as a target of bullying growing up she has “always been very sensitive” to the issue.
“I had scoliosis so I looked very funny when I ran and I also had a speech problem,” she said. “The bullying didn’t happen all that often but when it did it had an impact.”
Crawley said she tries to teach her patients to find ways to combat the bullying She said schools can also enlist “high status” students to help with the situation by intervening when bullies are targeting their peers.
It’s also important for schools to realize that if students are being bullied daily in either a verbal or physical manner there is a major issue, Crawley said.
“If I started calling my co-workers names and put them in chokeholds I would be fired,” she said. “We don’t tolerate that in the work world, why on Earth would we tolerate it in schools?
“I think as adults we don’t experience this and we forget how it might feel to a child.”
Addressing the issues of bullying can also have a positive impact on academics, Crawley said.
“Research shows that schools that have bullying programs actually have better achievement scores, lower dropout rates, more school spirit and less violence,” she said.
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Nathan Currie, the district’s assistant superintendent of administration, said he considers one report of bullying to be too many.
That’s why he’s looking to bolster the school system’s current bullying policy.
“I want to increase and intensity our bullying consequences for the upcoming school year,” he said. “A big piece of that is some type of proactive approach for the victim as well as the aggressor.”
The district currently defines bullying as any pattern of gestures or written, electronic or verbal communication or any physical act that places a student in actual and reasonable fear of harm.
The creation of a hostile environment by substantially interfering with or impairing a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits is also considered bullying.
Under the current policy, the first offense results in in-school disciplinary action or suspension at the discretion of the principal for a period not to exceed 10 school days.
A second offense means in an automatic suspension not to exceed 10 days.
An automatic 10-day suspension, with a possible recommendation for long-term suspension, is the protocol for the third offense.
Currie said the decision about whether or not to toughen consequences ultimately lies with the Board of Education. He’s still ironing out the proposed changes and will present them to the board in the coming months.
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Currie said every school has bullying protocol. Many have some type of anonymous reporting system and peer mediation groups.
He said if students are experiencing bullying, the first step should be to set up a conference with the teachers.
If the issue continues, they should involve the principal.
And Currie said his door is open to help find ways to deal with bullying. “If it’s not resolved on the classroom level or the school level, they certainly have the right to give me a call.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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