Dec 2nd, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: news, Uncategorized
After two incidents in one week of physical violence—both surrounding acts of bullying—Belle Chasse Middle School parents have begun asking questions about the level of bullying occurring at the school.
Being bullied is a matter of life for some students. Intimidation, hazing, harassment all fall under the banner of bullying. And the practice goes beyond the schoolyard, with long-term effects on the health of a child. It can negatively influence their eating habits, produce self-destructive behavior, low self-esteem, or even feelings of helplessness or suicide.
“We have an obligation to make sure our communities are safe for all of our kids,” said Sec. Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), at a recent White House presentation. HHS monitors bullying activity. The group operates StopBullying.org, which outlines the nationwide effort to address the actions and effects of bullying.
The Plaquemines Parish School Board maintains a strict bullying policy, which delineates the different forms of bullying, reporting policies, and even what constitutes the school grounds.
By this policy, any teacher or school staff are required to also report incidents or suspicions of bullying. It then becomes the principal’s responsibility to follow through.
“We do anything that can be done [in order] to deal with this problem,” said Belle Chasse Middle Principal Joseph Williamson.
Williamson, responding to the general reports and parent’s perceptions of an overall increase in incidents, said that he and Asst. Principals Bouche and Clark are diligent in their pursuit of known bullying activity, but not all incidents are reported to them.
“We do everything we can possibly do to deal with bullying at the school,” said Williamson. “The first and most important thing is we have to be made aware of the bully, and if students don’t confide in us or their parents…it’s kind of hard for us to deal with it.”
“We have several programs the schools put in place,” Williamson said. “The Sheriff’s Office has a program, the District Attorney has a program, [we have] a peer mediation program, any number of programs in place, but the key is discovering what’s going on.”
One of the programs Williamson mentioned, Project L.E.A.D. (Legal Enrichment And Decision-making) was instituted by the District Attorney’s Office back in 2000. LEAD includes a situational-based cirriculum, where students act out both sides of conflicts.
“These are designed to illustrate how easy it can sometimes be to step over the line without even being aware of it,” said Rae Riley, who is the Project LEAD contact with the DA’s office.
“Each semester, one of our Assistant District Attorneys are assigned to teach the Project LEAD curriculum to the fifth-grade students in our parish elementary schools. Project LEAD will be taught at Belle Chasse Middle School in the Spring of 2012. Bullying (Lesson 8) is one of the topics that will be discussed.”
“In the scenario, two boys are bullied by three older boys, because of a handicap,” explained Riley. “One boy pushes the other. From there, we move to class discussion. Three videos are used to show the effects of bullying and the consequences.”
The videos shown to students are anti-bullying public service announcements: The Price of Silence, Teen Bullying Prevention-A Cyber Bullying Suicide Story, and Children Arrested.
At the end of the course, students sign a contract, which is then placed in the halls outside of their home rooms.
“When an incident occurs within our schools, the school administration handles the situation within the school and may call law enforcement when necessary,” said Riley. “Also, parents have the right to contact law enforcement when they feel it’s appropriate.”
Superintendent Denis Rouselle said that the goal of the policies and programs is always providing a safe learning experience for each child.
“The bullying situation exists all over, and in our small district, it’s easier to pinpoint these bullies,” Rouselle said. “I don’t think there is a bully that goes around on a continuous basis, but I’m sure there are students being bullied who don’t come forward.”
Particularly troubling, according to Rouselle is the issue of cyber bullying.
The rise in cyber-based bullying practices has garnered attention from parents and school officials all over. Something as simple as a series of text messages, an e-mail, or comments under a post on a social networking site, like Facebook, can have very serious and life-altering consequences. There have even been suicides sparked by such incidents, where the two students were never even face-to-face when the bullying took place.
The School Board’s policy on cyber bullying defines it as, “harassment, intimidation, or bullying of a student on school property by another student using a computer, mobile phone, or other interactive or digital technology or harassment, intimidation, or bullying of a student while off school property by another student using such means, when the action or actions are intended to have an effect on the student when the student is on school property.”
In this way, cyber bullying extends the school’s realm. It is no longer about a student fearing the bully in the hallway, waiting between classes with snide comments or the threat of violence. That same student, going home to turn on his or her computer can face continued ridicule, almost unavoidably so.
“Facebook is really a problem,” Rouselle said. “[Students] go on, threaten each other, and then the problem comes to school.”
Parents are particularly frustrated when this happens, according to Rouselle, since the school is very limited in what they can do about incidents that occur outside school times and functions.
“People don’t realize, but once they’re home at night or on the weekend, that is not our responsibility,” Rouselle said. “I see the growth, we’re addressing social issues and I can’t control society, but I can control the schools.”