By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – With Michigan ranked the worst bullying state, and to embrace Michigan’s Safe Schools Law, Wyandotte Public Schools trustees and administrators met Nov. 1 to assess current conditions and chart a future course.
Instruction and Assessment Coordinator Krizia Totty provided data and a workshop framework to guide participants through a discussion of current perceptions, policies and procedures; the district’s approach to bullying at different age levels; current reporting systems; and future priorities.
Supt. Catherine Cost said workshop participants decided to focus on making parents more aware of the anti-bullying efforts in place in the district’s schools.
“This way, (parents) will know who to contact, as well as what proactive efforts are being done,” Cost said.
Michigan was the 48th state to enact anti-bullying legislation, with the “Matt Epling Safe School Law” signed into law Dec. 6, 2011, by Gov. Rick Snyder.
Epling, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, committed suicide July 16, 2002 after a severe high school hazing incident 40 days earlier.
The law prohibits bullying, requires districts to adopt and implement anti-bullying policies, and requires annual incident reporting.
Some anti-bullying policies have expanded to include cyber bullying, off-campus behaviors and LGBT protection.
Trustee Kathy Bedikian said she didn’t think bully was as bad as it used to be when she was in school.
“My perception (is) are we making much ado about nothing?” Bedikian said. “Is (bullying) really a problem?”
Trustee Robert Kirby said cyber-bullying didn’t exist for his generation, but impacts students now. Kirby said an incident will often trigger a reaction from a parent of a child who is bullied.
“My biggest thing when I talk to the parents is how do you work with those kids?” Kirby said. “We want them to have an adult that they can go to when they are being bullied, and (the adults) all know to go to the principal with it.”
Wilson Middle School Principal Carol Makuch said her biggest frustration is with parents who say their child is being bullied every day, but who do not report the problem, and who then presume nothing will be done about the bullying.
“Their perception of ‘nothing gets done about it’ means we are not suspending them,” Makuch said.
Kirby said that instead of parents reporting the behavior, children need to know what to report, and how to report situations to an adult they trust.
“What you want to build into your building is instead of the parent saying, ‘My kid’s been bullied and nothing happened,’ you want that kid to have that outlet, (an adult) that he or she can trust,” Kirby said.
Trustee Mike Swiecki asked whether there is any merit to anti-bullying programs.
“We have created a society where (children) don’t know how to stand up for themselves,” Swiecki said. “I’m not suggesting that we teach students to be confrontational, but with our sexual harassment policy, we teach students to say, ‘no’ and confront it – ‘You can’t do that to me.’ With the bullying we don’t do that. We teach them to go whining to the teacher or nurse.”
Trustee Stephanie Miello said she doesn’t see a widespread bullying problem, but is concerned about what adults do not see – cyber-bullying. She said the district might need someone dedicated to watching for bullying on social media.
Cost said cyber-bullying often migrates to live interactions.
“What we see is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” Miello said.
Cost said each district’s policies mirror the state law. She said in Wyandotte, the student code of conduct prohibits bullying, with consequences mentioned. She said there are anti-bullying procedures which are part of the anti-discrimination and harassment procedures.
“It’s addressed in numerous places, not only applicable to students, but district-wide,” Cost said. “What we are also finding is that it not only applies to students, but also employees.”
Cost said the key word to bullying as a concept is “repeated.”
“It’s a repeated behavior,” Cost said. “The repeated intimidation of others, by real or threatened infliction.”
Cost said the intimidation could be physical, written, verbal, graphic, electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse, or attacks on another’s property that can reasonably be seen as humiliating, intimidating, threatening or likely to evoke fear of physical harm or emotional distress.
Totty said at the state level, Michigan ranks poorly on anti-bullying ranking because it lacks safeguards to consistently protect students in categories like cyber-bullying and LGBT protection.
“In comparison to the other states, the state of Michigan is missing the mark in a lot of those programs,” Totty said. “We have some of them, but not all of them.”
For more information about bullying prevention, search online, or go to safeschools.info/bullying-prevention, violencepreventionworks.org, and pbis.org/school/bully-prevention.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])