BULLY PREVENTION EFFORTS
I was at a meeting recently at which legislative topics expected in the 2014 session were discussed. There was a general consensus that an item from this past legislative session, a bully prevention bill, is likely to resurface.
There are times when community residents or parents ask what we do to address the issue of bullying. I have been asked by some legislative leaders about the steps that we currently take in response to bullying issues and how the proposed legislation would affect us.
Because of the issues at the meeting and the questions that arise in our own community, I would like to review some of the bully prevention and reporting issues that are in place within our schools. Over the next couple weeks, I will review issues related to bully prevention efforts.
The idea behind the legislation is that Minnesota’s current law on bully prevention efforts is one of the most brief or shortest in the nation. The thinking behind the proposed legislation is that a law composed in few words is not effective in defining actions, expectations or requirements. The proposed legislation is much longer and has many very specific requirements—including considerable reporting and processing details.
Senate File 170 requires “School districts, in collaboration with interested community members, must adopt and implement a policy under this section to prohibit bullying and other conduct that materially disrupts a student's learning environment. The policy must prohibit bullying and other such conduct on school premises, during a school-sponsored event or activity at any location, while students are being transported by or on behalf of the district, and while students are using information technology, communication devices, or other technology to communicate or to access the Internet, regardless of location.”
While no one is opposed to taking action against bullying behavior, the biggest objection to the proposed legislation, as it unfolded in the last session, is that there are many unfunded mandates in the bill. The proposal, at least as I understand its provisions, requires a large amount of investigatory work, paperwork and reporting of issues from schools.
Not only would schools have to have internal records (which we already do), issues of bullying would have to be compiled into state forms and reported to a central agency. There have been estimates by other educational leaders that the mandatory reporting processes would essentially require each school building to add staff simply to complete the requirements.
Although Minnesota’s current bully prevention law is fairly brief, the belief expressed by those in attendance at my meeting was that the law is effective in encouraging schools to be proactive and engage in bully prevention efforts. School leaders at the meeting shared programs, expectations, and efforts taking place within their districts—and they are very similar to steps we take in ROCORI.
OVERALL APPROACH TO BULLY PREVENTION
The ROCORI School District is much like other school districts in the state in that we have multiple levels and steps that are taken to address bullying behavior. As a district, we have a bully prevention policy which is a starting point for our activities.
Our overall approach starts with the idea that bullying behaviors are not acceptable. We encourage individuals to report issues of bullying and then we address the issues that are presented—much like any other kind of disciplinary or inappropriate behaviors.
Although I will take some time in a future article to provide more details, there are a number of steps we take to address the issues of bullying. We have a number of educational programs that are age and grade appropriate focused on bully prevention. Special speakers and programs are regularly brought into the school buildings and/or district to address the issue of bullying behaviors.
We have reporting processes that we encourage students and parents to follow. We have regular reminders through posters, announcements and activities to discourage bullying behavior and to encourage students to address the issue in regular fashion.
We certainly do not encourage or accommodate bullying behaviors. As a district we work hard to be proactive by encouraging appropriate, acceptable, and respectful behaviors in students and adults. If issues are reported or observed, we take action to address the behaviors.
Perhaps the single most important issue involved in bullying behavior is to have the issues reported—to someone. Often, the most challenging issue involved in addressing situations of bullying is to have the subject or victim of the bullying behavior let someone know about the situation. Someone, especially a person in position to address the situation, needs to be made aware of the behaviors so that they can be confronted.
We have a number of formal ways in which bullying behavior can be reported. As a district, we do have anonymous reporting processes and tiplines that can be used to provide information. More often, however, the situation simply needs to be explained to an authority—a teacher, a staff member, a counselor, the school nurse, the School Resource Officer, an administrator, or any school official.
When an issue of bullying is reported or observed, we encourage intervention in the most direct and immediate manner possible. If the behavior is happening, the most direct step is to intervene by pointing out the behavior and setting the expectation that the behavior stop. Information conveyed to our staff by Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall explains that simply stepping forward to address bullying behavior ends most of it.
Other reports can certainly be made and follow a more prescribed process of investigation. The behavior is reported and a responsible adult (teacher, principal, counselor, other) follows up by gathering appropriate information and then taking the appropriate or necessary steps to intervene.
Much like any other disciplinary issue, a reported situation of bullying begins to build a file or record of behavior. As expected with progressive disciplinary processes, the more situations reported, the more serious the consequences become. The goal from the outset, of course, is to have the behaviors stop. If the behavior doesn’t stop—or results in retaliation—the disciplinary consequences grow.
Bullying behavior, especially in our age of technology and electronic means of conducting behavior, is an issue within the national and regional “spotlight” of issues. There are many efforts, including proposed legislation in Minnesota, focused on this type of behavior. It is a topic that we, as a district, take seriously. As we shall see in next week’s article, we take a multi-faceted approach to addressing the issue.