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Help bully-proof your student

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It’s that time of year again– time to get school supplies.  Lists of grade-specific items are in local stores so parents can buy the tools teachers know their students will need during the year–  pencils, check; notebooks, check; scientific calculator, check; personal bully kit, che … wait, what?

That’s not on any teacher supply list.  But, it should be on every parent’s list.

It would be so nice if a parent could just pull out a wallet or a credit card and buy a bully kit to add to the other tools in their child’s backpack. 

In fact, until recently, even standardized definitions for bullying, harassment or discrimination in Texas didn’t exist. But, on July 17, 2011, Gov. Rick Perry signed into Texas law anti-bullying HB 1942 which not only defines those terms, it outlines how school districts are legally obligated to deal with bullying. 

In response to the new standards, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has initiated the Bully Prevention State Initiative to provide information to school districts, parents, and students to help prevent, identify, and respond to bullying behavior.  In short, ignorance is no longer an alibi.

A Lantana mother, named Mary Smith to maintain her privacy, hopes that the new law requiring additional staff training about bullying will avoid future responses like her experience last year, during the 2011-12 academic year, following her multiple reports of bullying at a Denton ISD elementary school.

“After I told the [classroom] teacher about a group of boys calling my son names in the lunchroom and on the playground, she was great and did an anti-bullying exercise in the classroom and that helped stop a couple of the boys,” said Smith. “But, the other three kept up the name-calling, so I talked to the counselor.  Her suggestion was to put my son and the main bully in a room with Nerf swords to let them fight it out as a ‘bonding’ exercise.”

Smith was shocked by that suggestion, especially because it came from a staff member who is assumed to have credentials of advanced training and coursework in counseling. So, Smith reported everything to the principal. She said that no action was taken against the bully.

Smith later learned– after talking with other parents at a school volunteer gathering– that the child who’d bullied her son had been reported for similar behavior by at least four other families.

Clearly, not every campus administration was aware, or chose to ignore the fact, that HB 1942 became “effective immediately” in June 2011.

Perhaps an early alarm could’ve helped avert the January 2010 suicide of Montana Lance, 9, who hanged himself in Lewisville ISD’s Stewart Creek Elementary School in The Colony.  As reported by local media outlets, the boy’s parents, Jason and Debbie Lance, filed a lawsuit against LISD in January 2011 accusing officials of ignoring warning signs of bullying that led to their 9-year-old son committing suicide. Jason Lance was quoted as saying he hoped change would come from the lawsuit.

“There’s got to be a change,” said Lance. “The change starts with Texas schools and accountability and responsibility.”  When HB 1942 was signed into law, that change was realized.

Legally speaking, a school district has the latitude to enact the guidelines outlined in the legislation; however, ignoring reports and inaction are not options.

Both Denton ISD and LISD have written Student Code of Conduct documents which detail: exact definitions of bullying, harassment and discrimination; to whom and how to report those behaviors; campus staff and district administration responsibilities; and, specific disciplinary actions following specific investigation protocols.

Unfortunately, if a victim—or a witness– of bullying remains silent, no action can begin to solve the problem. It’s important that parents take notice of changes in their children’s behavior; easier said than done.

Parents can also access information on what signs of bullying, cyberbullying and harassment to watch for, as well as suggestions for parents and schools for solutions at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s website: www.stopbullying.gov.

As adults, parents can view the material on the various web links listed in this article, but it’s the students who need to learn that speaking up about one student hurting another is the right thing to do; being silent is wrong.

“My son didn’t tell me about the name-calling issue for quite some time,” said Smith. “He was afraid he’d be called a tattletale.”

To reduce that stigma, students and parents, faculty and school staffs in LISD are now directed to send reports either to the campus principal, the Superintendent or the district administration delegate. The mandatory follow-up investigation of the charge starts at the top of the chain-of-command and filters downward. Retaliation against those who report an issue is also illegal.

The Denton ISD includes the option of reporting an issue anonymously on its website.

Another state-wide policy change involves the previous restriction prohibiting a victim from responding to the bully.  As outlined by the new HB 1942 guidelines: “A student who is a victim of bullying and who used reasonable self-defense in response to the bullying shall not be subject to disciplinary action.”

This helps guarantee that a student who has been bullied will no longer be subjected to a second negative action by authorities. That means that if a bully calls someone fat, that labeled student will not be punished for calling the bully a bully.

To view the award-winning video depicting actions of typical bullying situations created by the sixth grade 2011 Destination Imagination team from Harpool Middle School in Lantana, visit:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAwr8rgPdfU.

In addition, the website: www.stopbullyingnow.com includes information based on the responses and input of more than 13,000 young people across America who participated in the Youth Voice Project survey conducted by nationally-known authors Stan Davis and Dr. Charisse Nixon.

Unfortunately, bully kits don’t come in “one size fits all,” or even a grade-specific fit.

School bus monitor Karen Klein, 68, of Rochester, NY, was verbally bullied by a group of seventh-grade boys on the last day of school June 2012. 

The public outcry was instant and overwhelming in support of the bullied grandmother. Max Sidorov, 25, of Toronto, Canada, started a website to raise $5,000 to send Klein on a nice vacation.  To date, more than $700,000 has been contributed.  Klein’s response has been to target funds for an anti-bullying program for children.

But, a bully kit isn’t even a tool that is only used by a victim of bullying or those who witness bullying.  The kit also needs to allow bullies to escape the behavior pattern that they’ve learned– and probably experienced themselves.

A person isn’t born with a bully gene; it’s a learned behavior that has been taught, repeated and seen as having no consequences.

“After school was out and she was at the community pool, my daughter saw the boy who’d bullied her younger brother,” said Smith. “She told him that he needed to stop name-calling in middle school, because that kind of stuff isn’t okay.  The next day I got a call from the boy’s father asking to meet. At that meeting, he said if my daughter spoke to his son again that he’d take legal action and he tried to intimidate me.  I told him I saw where his son learned his bullying behavior.”

Bottom line … parenting is not easy. 

Even if your child is born genetically perfect, “l
ife happens.”  If a parent watches a child too much, the child doesn’t learn from small mistakes to try to avoid big mistakes later. 

If a parent doesn’t pay close-enough attention, the child will most likely take a wrong turn and follow a path to an outcome that everyone will regret—financially and legally—for years.

The biological/physiological truth is that the human brain does not fully mature until at least age 24 and the last area to mature is the center that controls decision-making ability.  That’s the reason why insurance rates change at age 25, a person can’t rent a car before age 25 and parents look at their college-age “adult” children and ask:  “What were you thinking?” 

(If you don’t have your own story to insert here, imagine Queen Elizabeth asking Prince Harry about his recent visit to Las Vegas, which has a tendency to extend the immature timeline.)  

Whether your child has experienced bullying in the past, has been accused of being a bully, or has not yet been involved in or witnessed bullying, a tailor-made anti-bully kit needs to be included in your student’s toolbox to start the 2012-13 academic year.

The State of Texas has one of America’s strictest anti-bullying law in place and, if used by students, parents and educators, it can help end and prevent the cycle of bullying.

 

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