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Article of Interest - Bullying in Schools

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Making Schools Safe For Children
Korie Wilkins, Oakland Press, January 5, 2006
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Oakland County Prosecutor Dave Gorcyca’s anti-bullying program is no more, but local officials are working to keep the problem of school violence in check.

In fact, Oakland Schools has a committee that is looking at the entire issue of school safety. The committee is expected to present its findings and a recommendation in January, said Shelley Yorke Rose, the intermediate school district’s spokeswoman.

The intermediate school district is surveying local districts and will look at what’s mandated federally and by the state, in terms of school safety, before deciding on an action plan.

“There are a lot of things that fall under school safety, including bullying,” she said. “So we have a committee to look at the issue.”

In the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999, the issue of bullying and school safety came to the forefront. Two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide. Both Klebold and Harris had been teased and mocked for their hobbies and appearance.

To prevent such a massacre in Oakland County, Gorcyca launched his School Violence Prevention Program, which has been lauded by law enforcement officials and school authorities as a huge success. But the program, which officially ended last week, was the victim of federal budget cuts, Gorcyca said.

In February, Gorcyca was predicting the end, but hoped he could save the 6-year-old program.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “We just couldn’t get the funds together to save the program, either publicly or privately.”

Gorcyca said the program — funded by a federal $70,000 Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant that paid for full-time social worker Lori Parrish, who teaches both staff and students at area schools to appropriately deal with bullying — helped teach more than 47,000 students about bullying and conflict resolution in 135 schools.

The program promoted reporting of the behavior, taking measures to stop bullying and supporting victims as part of a majority that endorses acceptance of all students.

But under county rules, when grant funding ceases, a program is abandoned. Gorcyca said there has been a lot of talk about finding a new way to fund the program and community leaders aren’t abandoning hope of restarting it just yet.

“We still need to eliminate fear in the schools,” he said. “And we know this program had a definite impact on the county. Could it have prevented a Columbine-like problem here? Maybe.”

In fact, Gorcyca said that in schools where the program was implemented, administrators noticed a decline of 20 to 30 percent in behavioral problems and disciplinary issues.

According to Oakland Schools, bullying is the most frequently occurring form of violence in schools. It’s not just teasing and it’s not normal. Officials say it is a learned behavior and can damage children as much as child abuse.

A 2001 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that about 10,000 children a day stay home from school at least once a month because they feared bullies.

That’s why Oakland Schools is trying to do more for local districts. Yorke Rose said officials there take the issue of school safety very seriously and hope to offer similar programming soon.

“We recognize the importance of school safety,” she said. “Obviously, we wish this program was still in place.”

     

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