by Terry Rogers
Milford School District Vice-President Rony Baltazar-Lopez requested that district staff provide the board with some information regarding bullying in the district. Dr. Jason Peel, Director of Human Resources and School Climate along with Dr. Brittany Hazzard, Supervisor of Equity and Support Services, provided the board with information on how the district deals with bullying as well as statistics showing how often bullying was reported in the district.
“We wanted to first start with definition of what defines bullying,” Dr. Peel said. “Based on regulation, in order for something to be considered bullying, it must be repetitive. So there really is no first time kind of events on bullying and there must be an imbalance of power. So, it could be multiple students. Maybe with another student or one student may wield some imbalance over the other and the intention must be to cause harm.”
The district has steps in place to deal with bullying in schools. At the elementary level, they use the Safer-Smarter Kids curriculum that provides definitions of bullying and explains what the types of bullying are. There is also discussion about the difference between conflict and bullying.
“They spend a lot of time on what is conflict versus what is bullying,” Dr. Peel said. “One school counselor described it to me as “someone called me a name.” And so that’s really a conflict. And they try and work through that and how would a student handle that but until it’s repetitive and ongoing, it doesn’t necessarily become bullying.”
In technology classes, Dr. Peel explained that students are provided details on what is cyberbullying, and online safety is promoted.
“In the past, we have had anti bullying assemblies and schools report they do make announcements on a regular basis in terms of anti-bullying and how to report it and that sort of thing,” Dr. Peel said. “At our middle school level in the help and technology curriculums, they do, again discuss types of bullying. They actually do a poster project in sixth grade that talks about bullying. They hang those around the school to kind of promote bullying prevention. And they use a CommonSense.org internet safety program in all grades in regards to bullying. That does include information about cyber bullying at the high school, the same type of activities in the health curriculum class. Our technology specialists in the school have worked his year to make internet safety lessons that are able to be used with all grades in the school to promote online safety and really that notion of cyber bullying, which I think is important at that upper level.”
The district also has a tip line which is designed to encourage students to report bullying. Secondary students also have an app called “Stop It” which allows students to anonymously report bullying or any other activity they feel is unsafe. An online report form is generated which is sent in email form directly to Dr. Peel.
“So let’s say someone got home and they didn’t feel like maybe talking to an adult at school or something like that, they could do that form and send it in,” Dr. Peel said. “Reports are also available on the website. Also, in terms of reporting, we do send a letter, even for alleged or unsubstantiated offenses. So even if there’s an alleged offense, we make sure to let the parents of both parties know and we also record those in our data system. And we have a letter that is also sent home.”
According to statistics provided by Dr. Peel, there were 21 elementary and 29 secondary alleged offenses reported in the past year. Of those offenses, five at the elementary level and one at the secondary level were substantiated offenses. School Board President Jason Miller asked what would qualify as an alleged offense that was then not substantiated.
“So a student may say that another student was calling him a name or picking on him or something like that. So, we would look at that and say, okay, when did this happen? Well, it just happened today during breakfast,” Dr. Peel said. “So, we may mediate those students or get them together to help them solve that conflict. Maybe there was something where that student would have some discipline or have to be out of class or something, meaning the perpetrator. But since the student did report to us it was bullying, we would make that alleged, because if it happens again, because now we’ve told that student not to do that, whether we addressed the student or told them to sit in a different location in the cafeteria or not take this activity, then at that point it becomes ongoing, repetitive and would definitely be bullying.”
When asked if every incident of bullying had to have an intent to cause harm, Dr. Peel stated that they considered it bullying when a student intentionally excluded another, using the example that a student may tell another that one group of students was going to play a game, but one particular student was not allowed to play with them. This allowed the administration to deal with such actions as bullying without there needing to be a physical altercation. He also stated that students are given a definition of cyberbullying, such as posting a photo that was meant to put another student in a bad light.
“School environments are clearly critically important in allowing open discussion and trustworthiness for students to report bullying. So based on the school climate for the 2019 and 2020 school year, the student version indicated that the Milford Central Academy out of the 794 students who answered the survey, the average responses for bullying school-wide were rated quote unquote unfavorable,” Baltazar-Lopez said. “This correlates to the responses for student to student relations, which is also indicated as unfavorable. So I guess my question is whether this sentiment about bullying and more has it changed in more recent School Climate Survey?”
Dr. Peel stated that he was unsure what school surveys indicated recently. Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, explained that a new school climate survey would be sent out in the spring. Miller reminded Baltazar-Lopez that COVID made it difficult to do the annual surveys over the past two years. Baltazar-Lopez asked Dr. Hazzard if resources were available in multiple languages. He stated that in the Latino culture, there was a stigma about reporting bullying as it was the victim was perceived as weak, which made that culture less likely to go to an administrator.
“That that is a good question,” Dr. Hazzard said. “We work very closely with our English language learner interventionist, and that is going to change to multi-language learner. Now that we are all familiar and aware with what is happening, a lot of that conversation is occurring in face-to-face engagement or direct engagement, whether it’s with our students or families that are in need. We are working on providing more resources in regards to forms or paper documents or pamphlets, etc, that our students can have access to in regards to that. But you do bring up a very important point and one of the reasons that I say that is because we know that bullying has a high impact on like the social interactions and self-image, as well as the mental health of our students. And so, we’re working very closely with our counselors, psychologists, and our student family interventionist, to make sure that we provide services, groups, etc. that create an even more safe space to be able to express those concerns. Because whether it is cultural or linguistic, if there is a barrier, it can get in the way of someone feeling comfortable, of sharing and getting the help that they need.”
Baltazar-Lopez pointed out that the only way to address this type of issue was to be transparent and accountable. He suggested that the number of bullying incidents, both alleged and substantiated, be displayed on the district website so that the community could see the numbers on an annual basis. He explained that he had seen such statistics on the websites of other districts. Dr. Peel stated that since the district did have that data, they could work with the technology department about getting it posted on the district website.
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