Bully prevention a year-round effort

Oct. 20, 2017

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time for many school districts to focus even more attention on what has become a year-round effort in California.

Ensuring schools are safe for all students is a statewide priority. In Temecula Valley Unified School District, a new online initiative has encouraged students to report instances of bullying, which district leaders say has resulted in saving lives.

The “Report Bullying” initiative, powered by Let’s Talk! from K12 Insight, gives students a dedicated place on the TVUSD website to report acts of bullying or other potential threats to student safety

The cloud-based communication solution connects community members and school leaders 24/7 from a computer, tablet or smartphone. The technology was designed to make it easy for parents, teachers, students and staff to engage with schools in a way that makes them feel both safe and comfortable.

Since rolling out the Report Bullying feature early this year, the district has received more than 100 comments and concerns from students and other community members, each of which is routed immediately to a district team member for investigation and follow up. Read more about the initiative at https://goo.gl/mN6FYG.

In Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, where anti-bullying efforts take place regularly on all four campuses, Santa Maria High opened the school year with an anti-bullying mentorship event for more than 1,000 students. The two-part program, called “We All Rise (WAR) Guardians,” featured co-founder and CEO Don DeNoyer, a California National Guard sergeant, bringing the message, “Victory Over Injustice Creates Empowerment.”

Students and parents learned about the signs, symptoms and prevention of bullying, followed by a second-phase Guardians program that aimed to help students and teachers rehabilitate bullies, mentor the bullied and create a camaraderie in the school built on respect.

Duarte USD celebrated Bullying Prevention Month with a summit for student leadership teams from Duarte High School, Northview Village and CSArts. The stated objective was helping everyone understand each other’s perspective, as well as generating solutions and ideas to strengthen ongoing effort to bring the three schools together given their close proximity to each other, according to Superintendent Allan Murcerino.

“Everyone is committed to keeping kids safe and putting an end to bullying behavior. Bullying is an affront to the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination,” Murcerino said.

The superintendent recognizes that school bullying takes many forms. Much of the research literature offering a precise definition of bullying emphasizes that bullying is intentional, repeated and involves an imbalance of power, he said. This includes discriminatory bullying against minority groups, homophobic bullying and bullying against students with special needs or any student who seems vulnerable to his or her peers.

“A distinction is made so that bullying is not simply treated as aggression or violence,” Murcerino said. “Not all violence or aggression is bullying and not all bullying includes violence or aggression. Nevertheless, these distinctions are important as we explore remedies at our student leadership summit, as well as daily in our ongoing effort to provide a bully-free environment.”

A report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in California report less connection with school, poorer academic outcomes and more frequent victimization than their non-LGBTQ peers.

The report, “LGBTQ Youth in California’s Public Schools: Differences Across the State,” explores disparities in school experiences, school performance and well-being of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ youth, as well as disparities between LGBTQ youth in rural and urban areas in the state.

Using data from the 2013-2015 California Student Survey and California Healthy Kids Survey, the report found that despite state laws protecting LGBTQ youth from bullying and discrimination at school, these students report more frequent verbal and physical harassment and are more likely to report feeling unsafe.

LGBTQ youth in rural areas reported feeling less safe than LGBTQ youth in urban areas, but did not differ from urban youth in how frequently they experienced victimization. Find the report at https://goo.gl/hTtWNR.

Another group that experiences a higher rate of bullying in California is Muslim students.

A report from the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations documents bias-based bullying of American Muslim students. The report, “Mislabeled: The Impact of Bullying and Discrimination on California Muslim Students,” is based on a survey of more than 600 students, who were asked about their relationships with peers and teachers and about their comfort levels participating in discussions about Islam and Muslims.

The CAIR-CA report shares anecdotes collected from students and “know your rights” workshops. The report also provides recommendations for policymakers, school officials and families about how best to protect children from bullying in school. Find the report at https://goo.gl/USqrT1.

In addition to on-campus behavior, cyberbullying has been an uphill battle for many school leaders, who face a quagmire of sticky issues – from how much responsibility schools should take for after-hours behavior to the difficulty of disciplining students for online harassment.

Maria Hwang de Bravo, presenter of the ACSA workshop Bullying & Cyberspace Misconduct and cyberbullying sessions during Day in the Life of a Co-administrator, said cyberbullying has significant short- and long-term effects on the education, health and safety of students.

“Messages and images can be distributed worldwide and are often irretrievable; therefore, damage is ongoing, and long-term psychological harm may be greater,” she said. “Cyberbullying can often be done anonymously and can involve the participation of many individuals, making it very difficult to identify the perpetrators and address the misbehavior.”

But, de Bravo added, it’s important not to take “disciplinary measures that are inappropriate.” For example, many schools have tried zero-tolerance policies that impose automatic suspension or expulsion. These ultimately prove ineffective and may actually do more harm.

By developing a school-wide program that focuses on relationships rather than rules, and intervention rather than discipline, education leaders can measurably reduce online harassment among students.

Gilroy Unified School District did just that. District leaders launched a school-wide bullying prevention program at K-8 schools that revolves around how students behave toward one another. Superintendent Deborah Flores said the program aims to prevent incidents of bullying – whether at school or online – by focusing on behaviors. The program has resulted in a significant decrease in bullying incidents.

Coincidently, last week was Digital Citizenship Week. Common Sense Education provides lessons and activities to teach students how to be safe and responsible online, including a new “Get Dig Cit Ready” toolkit released in honor of the week. Visit www.commonsense.org.

Another potential anti-bullying resource comes from the ed-tech start-up Newsela, which aims to support teaching empathy, discourage bullying and support students who have felt bullied in their lives.

Newsela takes news stories from prominent outlets such as the Washington Post, the Guardian and Scientific American and “levels” them for students of different ages and reading levels. The tool teaches critical thinking skills to children as young as 6 years old. Access Bullying Prevention Month material at https://goo.gl/HqyKCx.

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