Approximately 30 people gathered at the Saturday morning for a public forum on bullying organized by the Board of Education. A mixture of parents and school faculty and administration, along with a few interested community members, attended what amounted to a mass community brainstorm on how BUSD’s current policy on bullying could be improved.
Board member Leah Wilson, who serves on the board’s policy subcommittee, had received feedback from parents and worked with others in the school district to design avenues for further discourse, including Saturday’s event.
“This is the first of many such forums,” Wilson said, adding that there were many areas where policy was lacking or absent and could benefit from community input. There is also an Open Town Hall online forum at http://www.peakdemocracy.com/portals/30/715 where residents can share stories and leave comments.
Board president Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said the policy defined the term bullying “very minimally.”
“There is a need to adopt something more substantive,” she said.
Over half of the two-hour forum was spent in breakout sessions, where those in attendance were divided into four groups with a board member at each one.
Leyva-Cutler stressed that the forum’s focus should be on policy language rather than sharing individual stories, although board members would be open to further discussion of personal experiences through other means, including the Open Town Hall or direct e-mail.
Personal stories did leak out during the breakout sessions. One parent talked about a son who was ridiculed for wearing a fish hat to school. Another talked about how the Gay-Straight Alliance — or anyone that even associated with it — was ostracized by other children. One parent implored that everyone read the "Dear Colleague" letter released in October 2010 by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.
The four groups reassembled afterward to share their suggestions for major points of change in bullying policy, with the vast majority of the discussion focused at the K-8 level. Many parents stressed the need for more proactive intervention, and a number of community members voiced strong support for more faculty training. Some attendees also felt that children needed to be educated on the full impact of their actions from a very early age.
“Kids should be able to say, ‘No, I don’t want to play with you right now.’” said Kristin Collins, principal of .
Residents also voiced concerns that the policy language was too punitive and did not account for a way to ensure that children who bully others reform their behavior.
Wilson added that since there is no scientific way of measuring bullying, she does not know the extent of bullying in the district.
The board will use its policy meeting on Thursday to outline a work plan. On the slate will be to examine privacy laws and other legal issues, as well as what areas fall under the board's jurisdiction. There is no projected date for policy revision.
“What we say here is not the beginning or end of that discussion,” said board member Josh Daniels.
Do you have suggestions for how schools can handle bullying? Tell us in the comments.