Parents Air Concerns at Bullying Forum
Administrators and parents met Wednesday night to discuss the new plan and procedures.
Wednesday night's parent forum on bullying was scantly attended, but the parents in attendance shared passionate and intense concerns, experiences and anecdotes, so much so it brought one parent to tears.
For a school with about 5,000 students, parents remarked they were sad to see about only 20 of their peers at Barnstable Intermediate School interested in learning and talking about the new bullying policy and procedures.
In the cozy library, school administrators and parents had lively discussions and debates. Overall, administrators and parents agreed three are things critical in making new anti-bullying plans work.
First, there needs to be a partnership between parents, teachers and the school. Second, parents need to monitor their children including keeping an eye on technology. Third, there needs to be a climate of civility among students, parents, teachers and the community.
Investigation, Intervention and Consequences
Of the new policies and procedures, parents were most concerned with the bullying investigation process and parent involvement. As it stands, administrators are tasked with interviewing and collecting evidence in bullying cases without set parameters for parental notification or a set time-frame.
While parents would most likely be aware if their child is involved in a bullying issue because it takes multiple offenses to bring about a bullying investigation, there is a chance a parent may not know when an official bullying investigation begins. Administrators are only required to contact parents when the investigation is complete.
Administrators agreed to consider adjusting the process at the end of the year, but they are just getting underway with implementing the new policy and want to see how things go.
"We put what we think is our best plan out there," Director of Student Services Gina Hurley said.
Parents responded to the investigation process by pressing for what types of outcomes and interventions will be in place to help students who are affected by bullying, both the victim and aggressor.
"Are we teaching the bullies to stop?" asked a parent.
Administrators assured parents there are measures in place to make sure both sides will receive necessary follow-up like disciplinary consequences plus things like counseling, special programming that teaches social skills, etc.
Both administrators and parents stressed the importance monitoring things like Facebook, texting and other technologies that instantly magnify an incident, potentially making it bullying.
"We need parents so significantly to partner with us - it is going to take one Facebook entry...if you lose your mind for 30 seconds the consequences could be dire," said Superintendent Patricia Grenier.
There is a dense grey area as to how technology plays into bullying. During the forum, Grenier presented parents with a potential bullying scenario involving Facebook and parents were split on whether it was bullying or not.
Administrators said it could take hours of debating to figure out if the mock scenario fits into the legal definition of bullying because of the complexity technology adds to incidents. Grenier said she is concerned about the new procedures because it is a lot of work to do without any additional support.
Technology is a complex component BIS and BHS will face.
"The number of bullying incidents that didn't involve technology is zero," Barnstable High School Principal Patrick Clark said in regard to many of his bullying complaints.
A parent said, "What I think is really scary - these kids don't get it." In regard to her daughters and friends she said, "they all say they aren't going to get caught...nothing is going to happen."
As the new policy stands now, if an incident using technology like Facebook affects a student in school - even if technology use happens off school property or outside school hours - it could be used in a bullying case.
Tone of Civility
Clark talked about 50 to 60 community youth organizations including sports teams coming together to create a standard code of conduct. He believes there needs to a positive community environment for anti-bullying measures at the school level to take hold and make a difference.
"If we set that [standards of civility] and it becomes community-wide, we don't have the negative soil by which the bullying plant can grow," Clark said. "We need to look at it in a more community-wide standpoint."
Clark said he wants to see the day "where the bullying behavior is such an aberration from normal that it really stands out like a sore thumb."
"It's going to take a lot of work," Clark said.
All schools in the Barnstable School District will be following identical bullying procedures. The procedures include immediately documenting all incidents, interviewing and collecting evidence for all incidents should the need to pull together a bullying investigation should occur, following the bullying investigation form and making a decision based on evidence, and implementing consequences and interventions.
There will be additional forums and a parent training to be aired on b2b TV Channel 22 later this year.
Raising awareness about bullying with students, parents and teachers has been on top of mind - there are several initiatives happening at all levels.
In regard to the plan and all the new efforts a parent said, "I just want a lot of this stuff to stop."