By Valerie Truesdale
Bullying is a serious problem facing young people. In response to several recent incidents in Beaufort County schools, we are redoubling our efforts to teach students our expectations about Respect and Responsibility.
Respect means treating others as you would want to be treated. Responsibility means reporting bullying to adults when you witness it. The message is, “If you see something, say something.”
Bullying can take place anywhere — on the bus, on the playground and on cell phones or other electronic devices. Cyberbullying, the act of harassing a fellow student in text messages or e-mails, has been identified as a growing problem.
Safety is our first priority. The school district’s administrative rules define harassment, intimidation or bullying as “a gesture, an electronic communication or a written, verbal, physical or sexual act” that could have either of the following effects:
• Harming a student physically or emotionally, damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of personal harm or damage to his or her property.
• Insulting or demeaning a student or a group of students in such a way that a school’s normal operations are substantially interfered with or disrupted.
Setting high expectations for student behavior is an ongoing effort. The district has:
• Trained all school staff in Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, a system designed to manage student behavior in classroom settings and outside of classroom settings. PBIS involves all people who have an interest in a student’s behavior, including family members, friends, employers, community members, teachers, school administrators, and various professionals. It engages all of these “stakeholders” in a support system designed to promote improved behavior.
• Instituted school uniforms, with all students wearing pants or skirts in one of three colors designated by individual schools and collared shirts. Teachers and staff also have a dress code.
• Developed and implemented a district-wide discipline code so that similar infractions by students generate similar consequences, regardless of the school where they occur.
• Restructured alternative education programs to handle varying levels of chronic misbehaviors.
• Introduced annual staff training in classroom management, student supervision and safety protocols.
Despite adults’ best efforts to ensure a safe learning environment, infractions will still occur because students sometimes make poor choices. School and district leaders met recently to review anti-bullying efforts and to outline an aggressive plan. One component of that plan took place on Wednesday, when we re-taught our expectations for Respect and Responsibility to every student in every school. Students were reminded to report bullying when they witness it – “If you see something, say something.” Disciplinary consequences for bullying and hurtful behavior were reviewed.
We also are asking parents and the entire community to assist us in emphasizing to our youth that bullying is unacceptable. Letters and phone calls will be sent to parents via electronic means, asking that they talk with their children about the importance of treating others how they would like to be treated. Parents, like students, will be asked to report bullying whenever and wherever it occurs.
Meetings with faith leaders, School Improvement Council members and civic leaders will emphasize our need for a community response to anti-bullying. Leaders of mentoring programs will be asked to have candid conversations with students about their expectations for respectful behavior. Meetings with student leaders, Gentlemen’s Club, Men of Strength Club, Youth Leadership Institute and fellowship of Christian Athletes members will emphasize their responsibility to lead their peers in opposing bullying.
Our efforts to keep children safe and secure are ongoing. We will continue to ask community members to reinforce the important message of civility and kindness toward others. We will continue to ask our youth to speak up to their peers and stop bullying. And we hope and trust that the entire community will support our children as they navigate the sometimes difficult process of growing up.
By Valerie Truesdale