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Article of Interest - Bullying in Schools

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Bridges4Kids LogoNorth Carolina Stands up to School Bullies
by Todd Silberman, News & Observer, June 24, 2004
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School bullies across North Carolina could soon lose some of their swagger thanks to a tough new campus adversary: the State Board of Education.
The board is likely to approve a new anti-harassment policy as soon as next week that would crack down on the kind of teasing and taunting that past generations accepted as just a part of growing up.

Although some school systems have already have taken aggressive steps against bullying, the new policy would require all 117 of the state's systems to adopt measures to prevent it and to intervene when it occurs.

"Sometimes children think that they're playing, but it may be teasing or harassment to others," said Marvin Pittman, director of school improvement for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. "We believe this policy can make a difference."

North Carolina would be joining a growing number of states that have drawn a line against bullying in the wake of killings by students in 1999 at Columbine High School in a Denver suburb and at other schools. Retaliation for having been bullied is often cited as a cause of the violence.

"We need to acknowledge that the problem exists," said Joanne McDaniel, director of the state Center for the Prevention of School Violence. "It's not just on the playground in elementary school. When you look at research, it peaks in middle school and continues throughout the school years."

In April, a member of the Orange County school board quit in frustration over what she called the district's failure to protect children from bullying. Betty Tom Davidson, the member, sent her son to private school to shield him from what she called "extreme emotional distress" that he experienced in a county school, despite her efforts to intervene.

The state's approach emphasizes both prevention and enforcement. All school systems would be required to have at least one representative trained at a state anti-harassment session. And school systems would be required to record all instances of bullying and harassment in the state's annual reports on school violence.

This past year, the state saw strong demand for optional workshops for educators about bullying behavior. The training was prompted by a growing volume of calls to the department's safe schools office about the issue.

Educating to prevent

Research nationally shows that one of every six students in sixth through 10th grades engages in bullying behavior, said Marguerite Peebles, an expert in school safety at the Department of Public Instruction.

Pittman said he hopes the training will raise awareness and sensitivity about the kinds of behaviors that often occur out of sight of adult supervision.

"A lot of times, kids get harassed and bullied, and they don't tell anyone," he said. "And there are kids who see something and don't say anything. It's a matter of educating the public, and educators need some practices about what to do."

Several school systems, including Wake and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, already have policies against bullying and harassment.

Wake's policy prohibits intimidation, disrespect and offensive language about a person's race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, intellectual ability or physical attributes.

The state's proposed policy would go further, also including a student's sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, linguistic and language differences, and socioeconomic status.

Wake schools also take steps to make sure that students know that bullying isn't tolerated, said Eric Sparks, director of guidance for the school system.

"People are taking a stronger stance dealing with bullying behavior," he said. "There is less looking the other way because of what's happened around the country."

Still, Sparks said, the school system also plans to step up its efforts next school year, by going beyond the written policy to provide practical tips and handbooks for teachers and parents about identifying and controlling bullying.

Tolerance hits zero

At Durant Road Middle, a year-round school in North Raleigh, students are warned that bullying is unacceptable, Principal Tom Benton said.

"People once talked about it as a natural part of growing up," he said. "Usually, if it didn't get physical, you didn't do much about it. Now we get on it immediately, because you don't know where it's going to lead, and no one has to go through that.

"There's a heavy effort to say that any kind of derogatory comment is unacceptable," he said. "Has it all gone away? No. But now when we bring kids in for doing it, we tell them point blank, 'If it continues, you're going home.' "

Schools in Guilford County have gone even further, with required lessons for fourth-graders in all of the district's 64 elementary schools. More than half of the system's 17 middle schools have adopted anti-bullying lessons.

The classes are aimed at prevention, said Vernice Thomas, safe-and-drug-free schools coordinator for Guilford schools. They were started three years ago after school leaders looked at trends nationally and locally.

In addition to training teachers, the district trains bus drivers to identify and handle bullying situations, Thomas said.

"We think it's helping," he said of the overall effort. "It's bringing the awareness up. Awareness is always good."

    

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