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‘We aren’t doing nothing’ school system says

By LAURA BUCKStaff writer

Ursula Yeatman of Prince Frederick had to pick her daughter up early from school because she said several kids were threatening to “jump her” in between classes.

A few years prior her daughter said kids gave out gum on the school bus and simultaneously threw it in her hair.

Two weeks ago Vicki King of Chesapeake Beach also had to pick up her son Darin from school when he was suspended for getting into a fight with a classmate.

A short time later a video of the fight was posted onto YouTube.

King said the school, Windy Hill Middle School in Owings, had the video removed from YouTube though King said it remains on several students’ Facebook pages and Darin is afraid to return to school.

“I want these kids in this school to know this is not something to do ... there are some really sensitive kids that can just be pushed over the edge,” King said, adding of Darin, “he needs a place where he is comfortable going and learning ... he’s become very withdrawn.”

Yeatman said she was trying to find an at-home tutor for her daughter, who attends Calvert High School.

She said she and her daughter filled out school system bullying report forms at school but felt that “nothing has ever been resolved, regardless of the no bullying policies.”

Yeatman said the school told her police action could not be taken until an actual physical fight occurred.

Like King, Yeatman said social media seemed to make the problem worse.

“Facebook is abundant so people jump on the bullying bandwagon, like ‘we’ll get her,’” said Yeatman, who said her daughter’s bullying issues stemmed from her receiving her late boyfriend’s wrestling jacket.

When it comes to parents like King and Yeatman, Calvert County Public Schools Executive Director of Administration Kim Roof, said while she understands their frustration especially because school system policy states that parents cannot find out how kids who bullied their children are disciplined the assumption that the school system isn’t doing anything is incorrect.

Roof said children are taught about bullying as early as elementary school and continue to learn about it in health classes in middle school.

The problem, Roof said, is that a bully could act up as much as eight or more times before he or she stops.

“Sometimes just because they don’t know what the consequence was didn’t mean a consequence didn’t happen,” Roof said of the parents of victims.

She explained that the school system uses progressive discipline when it comes to bullying and consequences could range from a conference with an administrator to an in or out of school suspension to police action if a student committed a chargeable offense.

In the most recent set of numbers from the Maryland State Department of Education from 2010, 234 bullying incidents were reported in Calvert County.

Though this number is the seventh highest in the state and the highest in Southern Maryland, Roof said a high number of reports could actually have positive results in that it meant victims were speaking up so the school system could addresss the incidents.

“We can’t stop something we don’t know about,” Roof said. “We want to flood the market with reports so we can do something about it.”

Roof said if a student was afraid to report bullying him or herself, he or she could have a family member call and report it.

Using social media to cyber-bully, Roof said, was “creating the single biggest disruption for our kids” and not as easy for the school system to handle right away.

With cyber bullying, Roof said the school system could not do anything unless it was creating a disruption at school.

While CCPS cannot control what students put on various social media websites, Roof said they do encourage parents to be aware of what their children are doing online.

“We can ask parents ‘can you please make them take that down?’ but for us to [take disciplinary action] it has to be a disruptive environment in the schools that is created,” Roof said.

CCPS will be holding two Internet Safety Parent Nights on March 23 at Southern Middle School and on April 11 at Plum Point Middle with speakers from the Maryland State Police and the Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office.

CCPS Supervisor of Student Services Karen Neal and Community Resource and School Safety Specialist Larry Titus are currently planning a bullying summit for the fall, Roof said.

Events involving the community need to be more frequent, Roof said, adding that organizations, churches and families needed to also start conversations about “how to interact with some sort of dignity.”

“... This is a community issue; we just happen to have the kids in our buildings for seven hours a day,” she said.

Elementary school counselors Allyson Sigler of St. Leonard Elementary and Natalie Washington of Barstow Elementary said they try to emphasize to children that there’s a difference between bullying behaviors and being a bully and one should never become the other.

Bullying behaviors, Sigler said, could be getting into a conflict with someone or having an isolated “mean moment.”

Washington said “mean moments” often stem from what starts out as playful teasing between two people.

“When she’s not laughing anymore, I might have crossed into a mean moment,” Washington said.

Being a bully, Washington said, is “when it’s repetitive and it’s done intentionally.”

“We focus a lot on character,” Sigler said. “Everyone’s different and everyone deserves to have a happy experience at this school.”

Both Sigler and Washington have been trained in the Oleweus Bullying Prevention Program, which they explained is a framework for a school’s culture, rather than a curriculum.

Washington said with the program, a core committee of school staff identifies certain behaviors of bullying and a set of consequences for them.

Titus said CCPS does not currently have the funding to pilot this program, which Washington estimated costs about $5,000 per school.

Titus said the training Sigler and Washington received was more about preparing for the future.

“This is the direction we’re going, it’s just a matter of when,” he said.

Roof said she believes that even though bullying is a conscious decision, kids make that decision for many reasons: because they’re being bullied themselves; to improve their self esteem; because they just don’t like someone; to fit into a certain group; or for “self preservation” so they don’t become targets themselves.

“It’s a hard mindset to change,” Roof said, adding that it’s a national problem with adults, as well.

“You can turn on the TV and people are being mean to each other all the time. We as adults need to model the behavior we want our kids to see and it’s tough because there are a lot of stressors out there,” she said.

Guffrie Smith of St. Leonard, a member of the Maryland State Board of Education and the president of the Calvert Collaborative for Children and Youth, said the latter organization worked with the Calvert County Family Network to provide a grant for all Calvert County elementary and middle schools to receive the book “The Bully Free Classroom: Over 100 Tips and Strategies for Teachers K-8,” by Allan L. Beane.

Smith said he believed that developing children’s positive assets often prevented them from displaying at-risk behaviors like bullying.

Smith said he also thought bullies were often kids who did not have positive communication and role models at home.

“Kids get away with a lot of things at home and then go to school and do the same thing,” Smith said, adding that kids sometimes harass classmates “for fun” because they aren’t involved in “creative activities” to keep themselves stimulated.

“Everyone has to be observant ... you can’t turn you head to it as a kid and as a teacher,” Smith said, agreeing with Roof that current TV programs do not help.

“Our choice in television is a killer,” Smith said. “A lot of kids start modeling that behavior and parents think it’s cute.”

Roof said students cannot access social media websites from school computers and cellphones are supposed to be out of sight and off, though Roof said this can be tough to control with large student bodies.

“We know we’re not perfect in trying to deal with this ... we do work as diligent as we can,” Roof said.

lbuck@somdnews.com