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Board expresses ‘confidence’ in system’s approach

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

A “multi-faceted approach” is in place to deal with the hotly discussed issue of bullying in the county’s public schools, school officials told the county commissioners Tuesday, even though there may be an “appearance that nothing is done.”

Calvert County Public Schools officials briefed the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners on steps and initiatives the school system has taken to approach bullying. In February, after several residents expressed their concerns about bullying in public schools, the BOCC requested a meeting with school officials to see what the school system is doing about the issue.

“We are not gonna get every incident,” Kim Roof, Calvert public school’s executive director of administration, told the commissioners. “We are not gonna stop every incident. Does that mean that we don’t want to? Well, sure, that would always be our goal because we don’t want any of our kids to walk any of our halls in any of our schools being afraid to be there.”

Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) told the officials after their presentation, “I have a great deal of confidence in [CCPS].” Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R) and Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) also expressed their “confidence” and noted that the school system has a “comprehensive plan” for dealing with bullying.

According to the presentation, CCPS uses a multi-faceted approach to deal with bullying both in and out of school.

The approach, said Larry Titus, community resource and school safety specialist, includes CCPS policies and procedures, annual staff development, reporting bullying incidents and investigating and responding to those reports.

When a student files a bullying report, the school conducts a “comprehensive investigation,” and then sends the report and findings to the Department of Student Services, which conducts its own review, Titus explained. The appropriate action is then taken, he said, adding that there is a level of confidentially that prohibits administration from sharing information.

Last year, Titus said, a “layer” was added to how the administration handles a bullying incident: “Everyone involved, including the victim, the offender and the parents of both, is informed of what the decision was, what the allegations were, as well as what the investigation revealed and what actions we can take to bring some relief to the victim.”

Roof said sometimes when parents don’t know what action was taken, and if the bullying continues, it “appears that nothing has been done,” but, she explained, “we are bound by confidentiality” and can’t share information about another student.

According to the presentation, more than 20 percent of high school students in Maryland have been bullied on school property, which ranked the state No. 12 in the nation in 2010. Wyoming was ranked No. 1 with nearly 25 percent.

“There are a couple different ways to look at that statistic,” Molly Gearhart, supervisor of student services, told the commissioners.

Roof said she believes it’s because of the “significant jump in reporting about five years ago” due to a “concerted effort” to get incidents reported.

“I’m not worried about numbers as much as I’m worried about those students who we’re not getting to report,” Roof said.

Gearhart said, “What we find is that most kids who are bullied don’t report that to us,” adding that younger students report bullying “much more often.”

Roof added that “oftentimes,” the students aren’t reporting it to parents either and the schools don’t find out “until much later.”

The more extreme the bullying behavior, such as physical injury, the more likely the bullying is to be reported, Gearhart said.

Bystanders, Gearhart said, play an important role in bullying even though they aren’t the bully or the victim of bullying.

“We actually work with our students to figure out when would be a good time to get involved or when would be a good time to go tell an adult,” Gearhart said.

She said when bystanders get involved, the bullying stops 57 percent of the time within 10 seconds.

“The problem is that peers typically only intervene 11 to 19 percent of the time,” she explained, “so we do have a lot of bystanders that don’t want to get involved.”

The school system has several initiatives for approaching bullying, including policies in the Student Code of Conduct and classroom guidance units, in which guidance counselors come to smaller groups of students to educate them on bullying and the various programs that are available if they are bullied.

“We know that bullying can have a huge effect on students,” Titus said, explaining that CCPS offers Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, suicide prevention, QUEST curriculum, which teaches good decision making skills, and anti-bullying and youth summits.

There are different curriculums that address bullying, violence and healthy relationships for elementary-, middle- and high school-aged students, Gearhart said.

In addition, school liaison officers are assigned to each high school and Maryland State Police officers are assigned to the elementary and middle schools to assist with incidents of bullying and harassment, according to the presentation.

Titus said these officers also aid the schools when incidents occur out of school and when incidents violate the law.

Other CCPS community partners, such as the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Department of Juvenile Services, the Community Mediation Center of Calvert County and the Calvert County Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, also aid school officials in dealing with bullying, Titus said.

ascott@somdnews.com