In the New London School District, 73 students reported a total of 105 bullying incidents during the 2012-13 academic year.
Of those incidents, 46 became physical.
“For years, our child has been bullied, antagonized and tormented,” a New London parent told the County Post East. “I can tell you from experience, if your child is being bullied, it starts out small and only keeps building. For us, it started in elementary school as theft. Over the years, it’s included pushing, teasing, name calling, threats, cruel rumors, intimidation, harassment and a threat on our child’s life.”
To protect the identities of minors, the County Post East will not disclose the names of the students or their parents who were interviewed for this article.
The parent said their child followed protocol by reporting incidents, but administrators “didn’t have time” to deal with the incidents, and shrugged them off as “girl drama.”
When questioned about the parents’ claims, Dr. Kathy Gwidt, New London district administrator, said the two students directly involved in this case have not had contact this year. She said staff are aware of the situation and have been monitoring both students in an effort to prevent future incidents.
“We’re doing everything we can to bridge the incidents and move on successfully. We can’t go back and erase the incidents of bullying, but we do take steps to reduce the opportunity for students to engage in bullying, harassment or other inappropriate behavior,” she said.
Gwidt said the district employs several tactics in an effort to eliminate bullying, including curriculum and instruction for students, staff and parents; utilization of outside resources; compliance with state law; compliance with school policy; and accommodations for students who request changes so that there are opportunities for positive communication and dialogue.
Actions taken to rectify these situations included warnings, lunch detentions, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, citations for harassment, referrals to the police liaison officer, students sent home for the remainder of the day, parental contacts, conferences with students and a counselor, meetings with principals, daily or weekly check-ins with principals, revocation of recess opportunities, revocations of after school program participation, one-on-one supervision, parent meetings and school counseling.
“We have strategies and curriculum resources in place, we provide additional adult supervision if needed, we have conducted an independent review of our practices and policy, and we stop bullying behavior when it is reported,” said Gwidt. “But we can’t go back in time and eliminate the frustration someone may have over an incident that occurred in the past.”
Regarding the case referenced in this article, Gwidt said a solution has been reached, which she hopes will serve all parties well.
Danielle Sievert is the district’s high school associate principal, and she coordinates alternative education programs.
“I have strong philosophy that every student is at risk of being bullied – whether it’s just on one day, or more often,” said Sievert. “Some are struggling with adolescence; others are trying to cope with family changes; still others are facing the stresses of grade transitions. Depending on what they’re facing, every student may be at risk of being bullied at one point or another.
“I did work with the families involved in this incident,” said Sievert. “We’ve set up some parent meetings. We’ve formed problem solving teams. It seems that small issues turned into large issues. Students don’t always understand boundaries and healthy relationships. Some students don’t know how to deal with conflict. We’re working to educate all students, telling them that incidents need to be reported right away. Unfortunately, the ‘bullying’ term is often added after a culminating incident that involves both parties making mistakes. If students learn to report incidents immediately, it may help prevent some future incidents from occurring.
“We have a contract system at the high school,” continued Sievert. “This helps kids take more ownership in the solution. Both parties sign a contract saying that they will leave each other alone and give space to the situation.
“We’re trying to train students to stay away from technology when dealing with high-stress or emotional situations, because social media can make the situation worse,” added Sievert. “We also have alternative programming, adjusted schedules, purposeful resource assignments, an advisement program, diversity lessons; two charter schools, a program to build education based on student need, credit recovery options, independent study, school-to-work programs, KSCADE options, and problem solving team meetings. Relationship issues are referred to school counselors if kids are willing to admit involvement in an incident. The Bulldogs of Character program is in place for grades K-12 to help teach kids good character traits. Members of the community often come in to participate, modeling good character and teaching kids how to set boundaries.”
Despite all of the district’s programs, the parents who claim their child was bullied in this incident feel that the school district hasn’t utilized options to their satisfaction or to the satisfaction of their child.
The two parties are continuing to work towards a solution that is acceptable to all individuals involved.
Sievert and Gwidt concluded that bullying incidents are difficult to define, and even more difficult to rectify.
“I really think ‘bully’ is a buzz word,” stated Sievert. “It’s very difficult to negotiate the difference between growth and support for learning, and the law. I think, as a school district, we’re stuck right in the middle of that. Many bullying complaints deal with perception; we can’t reset that for students. They may be right in their perception of an incident, but things get very difficult once you label someone as a bully. It’s much clearer when it’s a straight legal issue. It’s often hard to say if an incident is bullying or just the evolution of a friendship within adolescence.”