Do Reactions Imply SMMUSD Does Not Have the Bullying Problems Now Under Review Elsewhere?
• Youth Suicides Attributed to On-Campus Abuse Is Area of National Public Concern
BY JULIE WALLACH
Experts now say that the old proverb 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me' is not true for children.
Forty-five states have recently passed legislation that address bullying or harassment in school, and the federal government has compiled extensive data on the psychological, emotional and physical consequences of bullying.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that between 15-25% of students are frequent victims of bullying, while 15-20% of students bully others often. Many incidents go unreported.
The U.S. Department of Education defines bullying as "attack or intimidation with the intention to cause fear, distress, or harm that is either physical (e.g., hitting, punching), verbal (e.g., name calling, teasing), or psychological/relational (e.g., rumors, social exclusion); a real or perceived imbalance of power between the bully and victim; and repeated attacks or intimidation between the same children over time."
Principal Barry Yates discussed his view on bullying at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School. "Juan Cabrillo does not have a formal program to prevent bullying because bullying isn't an issue for us. Elementary children do have conflicts and don't always get along, but these conflicts are usually over friendships or a game at recess and are very short term."
Yates added, "Bullying is a very broad term that is used to label unacceptable treatment of others and our teachers address most of these minor issues in the classroom or on the playground immediately after they occur. Our behavior standards include respect for others and conflict resolution techniques, and a majority of our disagreements are handled promptly and do not reoccur. If the teacher, instructional assistant or other adult in charge is unable to resolve a problem then it is referred to me for resolution."
In the wake of several reported anti-gay bullying related suicides last September, the DOE Office for Civil Rights distributed a "Dear Colleague" letter to school administrators that stated that bullying "may trigger legal responsibilities for schools that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion" and also includes verbiage regarding sexual orientation.
The letter states, "Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful or humiliating.
"Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents."
A Malibu school principal discussed an incident that occurred between students who were teasing a student by using a derogatory term to describe what they believed to be the student's sexual orientation.
The students and their parents were called in and involved in a discussion of the incident with the principal and the harassed student. No further action was taken, as the incident appeared to have been resolved after the meeting.
Malibu High School's Student Support Personnel Team, a collaboration of school counselors and parents, teachers, faculty and members of the community, reported in 2010 that after providing anti-bullying prevention programs to middle and high school students, 96-97% of students could "identify a bully; know at least three strategies on how to deal with a bully; and, can identify at least one adult to go to if [a student is] feeling threatened."
Although the numbers illustrate positive results of the programs, no Malibu middle or high school administrators or staff returned email or phone calls to discuss anti-bullying programs and whether there are bullying issues currently on any of the local campuses.
A Malibu High School student who attended Malibu Middle School shared her perspective on bullying: "The girls were really mean in eighth grade. Everyone is nice at the high school now, but the girls would say things to girls about being fat. or leave people out, or just say mean stuff [in middle school]."
District conduct forbids "Harassment of students or staff, such as bullying, including cyberbullying, intimidation, hazing or initiation activity, ridicule, extortion or any other verbal, written or physical conduct that causes or threatens to cause bodily harm or emotional suffering."
These acts are cause for disciplinary action including suspension or expulsion. When asked for comments about anti-bullying policies and known incidents of bullying on any district campus, or suicides relating to bullying issues, superintendent Tim Cuneo referred the matter to Marolyn Freedman, director of student services for the district. Freedman mentioned California Education Code 48900(r) that addresses bullying, but did not discuss whether bullying is prevalent on district campuses or any anti-bullying prevention programs.
Webster principal Phil Cott thinks that students who can trust their teachers, school administrators and staff are more likely to discuss any issues that may arise with respect to bullying.
Cott said, "You need to have a school environment where kids trust adults. Hopefully, in that right environment, kids will tell us if there is something going on. If it is clear and understood that school is a place where good, decent behavior is expected, that is the prevailing behavior you will see."
If a bullying issue arises, Cott said that you have to "take time to discuss what happened, intervene, look the students in the eye and confront it."
Once they tell the truth, which Cott explained usually happens, students are told that it cannot happen again. Parents are called and a letter of apology is written to the victim.
He concluded, "Secrecy is the biggest enemy."