County schools undergo bullying workshop
by Mark Andrews
Oct 25, 2011 | 2215 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Michael Carpenter, a national certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Consultant, talks with Bartow County school counselors and administrators.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Bartow County school counselors and administrators met at the old Cass High School cafeteria Thursday and Friday to engage in a bullying workshop sponsored by the Shaw Foundation and conducted by a team of experts on the legal aspects of the topic.

Leaders of the two-day workshop spent the first day covering the more traditional perception of bullying, meaning physical or in-person, and the second day covering the newest form of bullying known as cyber-bullying.

"We have teachers that call everything bullying, we have parents that tell their kids they're being bullied/come to school and tell your principal '[I'm] being bullied.' It may not be happening in your system, but for others they're overusing the word," said Michael Carpenter, a national certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Consultant. "I would say take it seriously, but document what's going on to see if it has the characteristics."

The providers of the workshop, for example, used clips from popular film and television to show the different forms of bullying as well as to show how perceptions of bullying have changed over the years, lead exercises that emphasize the various dynamics of a bullying situation and those directly or indirectly involved, and how to communicate with parents on whether their child is involved in bullying.

For example, Carpenter showed clips from "A Christmas Story" and "Forest Gump" to demonstrate key elements of bullying, juxtaposed with clips on how social media and technology has allowed for a different and more easily widespread form of bullying. He also had those in attendance recount their perception of bullying when they were students and to discuss how the situations were handled and how they should be handled in Bartow schools.

Director of Secondary Curriculum Jim Gottwalt said when working in the Paulding County School System he hired counselor and trainer Patti Agatston -- joined by her husband attorney Andrew Agatston at the workshop -- to conduct similar training that established the school system's use of the Olweus Bullying Prevention program.

"We're not trying to do the Olweus [Bullying Prevention program], but we're trying to come up with a system, an approach to deal with it," Gottwalt said. "We had Dr. Carpenter here this summer to work with our secondary schools developing lessons for their advisement program to deal with some bullying issues, so we just thought this was an opportunity to get the entire system together on the same page."

Donald Rucker, principal at South Central Middle School, said one of the most important elements discussed in the workshop to deal with the issue of bullying is determining what is considered bullying versus other behavior or harassment.

"A lot of what you see and hear in the media that they're calling bullying is not bullying," Rucker said.

Although the school board has had a bullying policy on the books since 1999, they adapted the policy in the Spring to coincide with SB 250 which requires local school boards to adopt bullying policies.

Specifically, SB 250 expands the definition of bullying to harassment on school networks and computers and includes language requiring any teacher or school employee with reliable information that someone is a target of bullying, immediately report it to the principal -- something argued as a result of media attention to teen suicides attributed to situations in which school employees knew a bullying situation was occurring but did not interfere.

Originally the Georgia statute for bullying came from the criminal code for assault and battery for adults, defining it as "...any willful attempt to threat to inflict injury or any intentional display of force."

Patti Agatston said it was important to note the impact bullying has on children emotionally and mentally. For example, according to a 2003 Harris poll of 2,279 girls ages 8-17 years, the biggest fear cited was being teased or made fun of at 41 percent, which was greater than natural disasters, terrorist attacks and war.

Research presented from showed bullied children are more likely to avoid going to school, have higher absenteeism rates and receive lower grades.

Coming full circle with the impact of bullying, speakers, administrators and instructors agreed during the workshop on the detrimental effects of labeling students as bullies.

Research presented by Carpenter showed 60 percent of boys characterized as bullies in grades six to nine had been convicted of one registered crime by the age of 24 compared to 23 percent of boys not characterized as bullies.

Andrew Agatston said while there are numerous lawsuits filed each year in Georgia against school systems accused of allowing bullying, few hardly ever make it to court.

"The cases that you hear about [going to trial] have an extreme set of circumstances," Agatston said. "The traditional stories of bullying are being resolved in the schools and are not dealing with any litigation, at least in my research."

Agatston said it was important, however, for school systems to understand their legal responsibilities and liabilities when it comes to handling bullying situations.

"It's gotten so important that we have to deal with [bullying] and we need to deal with it proactively and upfront," Superintendent John Harper said.

Rob Kittle, principal at Emerson Elementary School, said information discussed during the workshops that he'll bring back to EES include covering the "hotspots" or areas in which bullying can take place on school grounds.

"We talked about identifying our hotspots and making sure we have plenty of adult supervision, and elementary is a lot different than a middle school or high school because the class changes are structured and traveling to and from lunches are structured, so we don't have the hotspots they do on those levels," Kittle said, "but like on the playground, making sure we have enough staff spread evenly across the playground so we can see those behaviors taking place or when there's those unstructured times, and like at the lunchroom, where we see what's going on and hear the conversations the kids are having."

Kittle said another important element discussed during the workshops was gateway behavior.

"If we see some behavior that could become repeated behavior or could become a power-based thing against another child that we intervene immediately and really get something in place, and I think that really goes back to training our teachers to know what to look for and what they can deal with in their classroom and what we can deal with in the office as well," Kittle said.