Carolina Stands up to School Bullies
by Todd Silberman, News & Observer, June 24, 2004
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across North Carolina could soon lose some of their swagger
thanks to a tough new campus adversary: the State Board of
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
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
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
"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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