The following was sent to all of city council and the board of education:
I recently attended the anti-bullying summit hosted by the Safety Education Unit of the Knoxville Police Department. Their goal was to educate and encourage ways to strategize action plans to reduce bullying behavior. It was attended by over 700 citizens, law enforcement, government and education professionals.
If, like me, you once thought that bullying was “just a part of growing up,” think again. The depth and impact of the problem should not be underestimated and certainly should not be ignored. According to sources cited on bullyingstatistics.org, bully victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. Furthermore, girls between the ages of 10 to 14 years old may be at an even higher risk for suicide, which is the third leading cause of death among young people.
Most of us are familiar with the traditional types of social and physical bullying. Technology, however, has allowed our children to engage in more aggressive forms of bullying at younger ages than before. Kids are using a broad spectrum of platforms including online forums, social media, texts and email to harass, disparage and threaten one another. In an instant, an embarrassing picture or harmful rumor can be shared with thousands of people.
One of the speakers, an SRO, compared cyber bullying to the William Golding novel, Lord of the Flies, in that young children are, by in large, left entirely unsupervised with their internet devices. She said that most cyber bullying involves children between the ages of 13-15 years old. What’s worse, technology has erased the physical buffers once found at home. Victims no longer find a reprieve from their tormentors when they leave school because cyber bullying can occur all day, every day.
Beyond the physical and emotional impact, bullying affects children academically and thus “corrodes the work of teachers and parents” The key note speaker, Dr. Steven W. Edwards, was a former principal of a Connecticut high school that had a 100% economically disadvantaged student population and was riddled with gang problems. He shared stories and lessons learned that led to a major transformation over a 10 year period.
He advised that first we must “create a sense of urgency about what matters.” Adults need to own the problems and respond appropriately when made aware of harmful situations. Dismissing concerns, shifting responsibility or delaying action will only worsen the problems and likely erode the trust of the child who approached them in the first place.
Dr. Edwards also spoke of the importance of collecting information to identify trends and develop appropriate strategies. For example, studies have shown that most school fights occur amongst 9th grade females. Another survey found that 43% of students fear harassment in bathrooms. Together, parents, school staff, community leaders and police should endeavor to learn what trends and fears are most prevalent in our schools and work together to overcome them.
Teachers, administrators and other school staff were strongly encouraged to invest time interacting with their students. Doing so communicates to the individual that they are valued and can give them a voice that they might not otherwise have. Dr. Edwards stressed that this approach was to be equally applied to all students, bullies and victims alike. He spoke of developing strategies to “get the bully on your team” and said that punishment without rehabilitation would not yield true change.
Finally and most importantly according to Dr. Edwards, community wide collaboration is critical to the success of alleviating bullying. As the elected bodies of our city, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to lead this effort and proactively engage our constituents and our children.
I’m encouraged by the increased cooperation and efforts between city and school administrators as of late. The city manager has expressed confidence that the Memorandum of Understanding, which establishes guidelines for how the Oak Ridge School staff will cooperate with the Oak Ridge Police Department, will be finalized shortly after the Police Chief and School Superintendent have a final meeting on the agreement on August 7th.
Once this has occurred, he and Chief Akagi plan to make additional police officer time available to the schools with a more visible effort in the middle schools and the high school. Two ORPD officers have also been registered and scheduled to attend the 40-hour basic SRO training this fall.
Mr. Watson also reports that the risk assessments are moving forward. The city and schools will also engage with private expertise in a comprehensive assessment that may be used as a model by schools across Tennessee.
At our August 12th city council meeting, I will request that council consider scheduling our own school safety summit with the Oak Ridge Board of Education. We can use this forum to achieve some or all of the following:
- encourage open dialogue and continued public discussion
- receive comprehensive updates and action plans from both city and school staff
- discuss progress, obstacles, solutions
- increase understanding of existing policies and procedures
- explore and pursue the help of existing programs, grants and organizations
- recruit community input and involvement
I have a flash drive of the presentations from the anti-bullying summit. The files are too large to email, but I would be happy to share the drive with anyone who would like to borrow it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can better protect our children.
P.S. I found this video on TED. It provides an excellent insight into the mind of the bullied.