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Providing a safe learning environment | GUEST OPINION
As we begin a new school year, among our goals is a safe and orderly learning environment that supports high levels of student engagement and learning.
One of the important areas we prepare for is addressing HIB — harassment, intimidation and bullying. HIB is a national concern and a concern of staff, students and families in the Marysville School District. The familiar saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is actually not how it really is. While having a broken bone can hurt for a while, name calling, physical intimidation, making fun of others, and bullying can have life-long negative effects — and never involve physical injury. And it certainly hurts — for a long time. As a district and as a community, how can we together do something about HIB for our children?
A year and a half ago, a group of parents came to us and asked to work with us to strengthen our HIB policy and education. At the same time, the state developed new stronger guidelines for addressing issues of HIB in our schools. The results are a clearer, stronger approach to addressing HIB in our district through understanding what HIB is, what we can do for prevention, what are the processes for reporting a suspected HIB incident, how can we intervene, and how parents can be involved. .
What is bullying? According to information available on the OSPI website, School Safety Center, bullying is “when a student or students are being exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more students. Bullying exists when there is intentional harm-doing and a negative action is repeated over time, and there is an imbalance of power.” Conflict, on the other hand, does not meet these criteria although it may be negative and impact those involved.
What steps can we take to prevent bullying in our schools and in our community? Educating staff, students, parents and school volunteers about HIB — what it is, how it affects those who are targets, and what we expect and won’t tolerate is the first important part of addressing this national issue. It also includes defining what HIB is and how it differs from conflict that occurs in daily interactions among students (or family members). In Marysville schools, all staff participate in mandatory training on HIB. This includes knowing the requirement to report any incident that may be harassment, intimation or bullying for further investigation. We provide education for students through curriculum such as Steps to Respect and assemblies such as “Rachel’s Challenge.” And we invite parents to take the same online training as our staff does. Understanding what HIB is and working together to create a culture in our schools, families and communities of anti-bullying is the best prevention. The repeated message to all is “If you see it, report it, don’t wait, stop it, every time.”
How do we report if HIB may be occurring? What do we do if a possible HIB incident occurs? All staff are trained each year to recognize HIB and to report it, even if they are not sure it is HIB. Reporting is mandatory for any and all staff, and anyone — teacher, student or parent — can report an incident they believe to be HIB by completing an HIB reporting form. These forms are available in every school and on our website. This form can be completed and turned in anonymously. In addition there is an HIB tipline where anyone can call and report a possible HIB incident (1-866-LIVE TIP). The school administrator receives this form and must by policy investigate the incident to determine if it is HIB or conflict (see the definition above). This form and the action taken is also turned in to a district level HIB compliance officer who monitors the patterns seen in schools and the actions taken by administrators. Posters are displayed in all our schools.
How do we intervene if HIB may be occurring? Intervening in situations where HIB may be occurring includes both education and consequences. We need to make sure that students understand what bullying is and what the consequences of bullying are — to those who bully, harass and intimidate and to the student who may be a target of bullying. Every HIB report form that is turned in is investigated by the school administrator. Parents of the targeted victim and the aggressor(s) are notified. If HIB is found to be occurring, our first concern is to develop a plan to address the safety of the victim and include the parents in the development of this plan. This may include changing classes or schools for the aggressor. Staff are informed of the plan so they can help monitor its implementation. An equally important concern is dealing with the bully. Depending on the severity of the conduct of the aggressor, corrective measures may include counseling, education, discipline, and/or referral to law enforcement.
Any and all reports turned in are sent to the District HIB Compliance Officer. The reports are tracked, analyzed and reported to the School Board.
What about cyberbullying? With the advances in technology and personal communication devices, the opportunity for “cyberbullying” is greatly increased and often occurs outside the school day. Cyberbullying frequently spills over into the school day and becomes an issue for school climate and student safety. The district is limited in the ability to control what goes on before and after school. We do our best to educate parents to monitor their student’s cell phone and internet use. However, we reserve the right to investigate when there is a complaint which may include seizing cell phones or logging on to Facebook postings. Dealing with cyberbullying follows the same procedures and consequences as other forms of HIB.
Harassment, intimidation, and bullying is a school problem, a community problem, and a national problem. HIB has impacts on the aggressor, the targeted victim(s) and the bystanders — and on our community. We must work together as a community to address HIB through education, prevention, intervention and communication. Additional information and resources are available by visiting the School Safety Center Web Page at www.k12.wa.us/SafetyCenter/default.aspx.
Cindy Erickson is a Director on the Marysville School Board and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.