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RSS officials: Anti-bullying programs working, but take time

Rowan-Salisbury School System officials say they are making progress in the battle against bullying, but caution that the problem can’t be solved overnight.
And they’re calling on members of the community outside the school system to help.
Assistant Superintendent for Administration Nathan Currie and Student Services Director Carol Ann Houpe updated the Board of Education at its meeting Monday.
The discussion comes a month after Daniel Safrit, an 11-year-old Erwin Middle School student, took his own life. Daniel’s parents say he was driven to suicide by bullying at school and that complaints to administrators there went unanswered.
Scottie Safrit, Daniel’s father, was one of three people who spoke about bullying at Monday’s school board meeting.
“The bullying policy at schools, I feel, is not strict enough,” he said. “They’ve got to be changed … to where there’s more accountability for students, parents and staff.”
School system officials say they’re working toward that goal. Houpe said the district is implementing a prevention program at every school that aims to “change the norm.”
She said the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is internationally known and has three goals: to reduce existing bullying; prevent bullying from happening in the future; and achieve better peer relations.
Houpe said the program teaches everyone who may witness bullying — from administrators to custodians and bus drivers — how to respond. And it encourages students to be more than bystanders to bullying.
“We want to have a shift in school so there are more students becoming defenders,” she said.
She said the program takes time to put in place, with a committee trained in it and in turn training the rest of the staff. Twenty of the system’s 35 schools have the program so far. Overton Elementary was first. Shive Elementary and North Rowan Middle recently began with it.
The district also has an online reporting tool available on the school system website or individual schools’ websites. Houpe said several people at each school get those reports, and she monitors them as well. People who report bullying can remain anonymous.
Those programs are in addition to annual and increased training for school administrators in the system’s policy on bullying, which Currie said got a glowing review from the Office of Civil Rights in Washington.
Megan Braun, a junior at North Rowan High School and anti-bullying advocate, told the board she’d been bullied in her younger years with nothing done about it. She also said that neither she nor her sister, a sixth-grader, has ever been to anti-bully training in school.
Rowan-Salisbury officials hope to get help changing that.
The school system is assembling a “task force” to review Rowan-Salisbury’s policies and anti-bullying programs. It will include members of the community, and school system officials hope the group will meet once before Christmas, spokeswoman Rita Foil said.
In her remarks to the board, Houpe said overcoming the problem will take time and effort.
“It is a long-term commitment,” she said. “It’s not an easy fix.”
For many including Scottie Safrit, Daniel Safrit’s father, change can’t come soon enough.
“No child should have to feel afraid to get up that morning and go to school,” he said. “That should be a happy place, a learning place. … At least Rowan County can set an example and show other places what they’ve got to do to stop it.”

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