The Ottumwa Courier

October 12, 2012

Preventing bullying: School districts say more parental, community involvement needed

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — When children are dying, say officials, bullying is no longer a “boys will be boys” type scenario.

“We take bullying very seriously, because if we don’t, you think of the worst-case scenario with all the tragic cases we hear of recently, where a kid has been bullied,” said Dave Harper, principal of Evans Middle School.

With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, area schools have been hosting activities. Cardinal had Unity Day this week.

“Unity Day is where everyone stands united against bullying,” said Sara Swanson, the guidance counselor at Cardinal Middle/High School.

Students watched videos, discussed bullying and wore orange as a show of unity. Some students are developing anti-bullying videos, too.

At Evans, Harper said he wants every child waking up in the morning happy to be going to school.

“Bullying is not part of that equation,” he said.

The goal is to have a safe environment where kids can learn. But parents need to be involved.

“Schools can’t do the work of bullying prevention alone,” said Joel Pedersen, superintendent of Cardinal community schools. “Schools are working hard [yet] often get blamed for not doing enough.”

That blame is sometimes warranted, but most educators really are trying to create a safe learning environment, he said. Yet they’re not doing as well as they could be doing.

“We need the support of parents and community members to make the biggest impact on reducing bullying behaviors,” said Pedersen. “Thinking that schools can fix this problem alone is not fair.”

So what does Pedersen want?

“We need parents to talk to their children about bullying and harassment, about inappropriate text messages [and] about posting inappropriate material on Facebook [-style] sites and check those accounts if needed. I am ranting a little. But it just seems that schools need partners in this fight.”

It’s not just parents who need to support the school or tell their own kids, “we don’t pick on those weaker than us.”

“A lot of times we won’t hear about [a bullying] incident,” said Harper. “But a kid doesn’t need to go through the school day thinking they don’t want to go to school. We ask parents to talk to their kid. And if the child is a little shy, we ask parents to call one of the principals here. Let us investigate.”

On the website, parents can submit a complaint form.

“I’d prefer they call me personally. Then, I have ownership of that problem. And they know it’s going to get handled,” Harper said. “We’re trying to create an [improved] culture and climate at Evans.”

If that works, positive peer pressure can do as much or more than adults can. A bully showing off for their friends isn’t going to get much satisfaction if those friends say, ”Hey, we don’t act like that here.”

When administrators do talk to a bully, they’ll ask if the student knows what defines a bully. They should know, since a school staff member is going around telling each student what the Evans and Ottumwa policy against bullying is.

“We tell them, ‘It needs to stop, and this is why,’” said Harper. “If it continues, that’s where we escalate to ... a parent conference or [other consequences]. If it happens again, we keep adding consequences until the bully gets it, that we aren’t messing around.”