Survey results show that bullying between students is a growing problem in Tooele County schools, yet officials hope a new policy will help teachers and parents to reverse the trend.
But according to a local man who says his child is a victim of bullying, the policy likely won’t change a thing.
At Tuesday night’s Tooele County School Board meeting, board members approved Policy 11033 titled, “Prohibition of Bullying, Cyberbullying, Harassment, Hazing, and Retaliation.”
“We know it is going on,” said Scott Rogers, Tooele County School District superintendent about bullying. “We are responding — we are trying to improve.”
According to a recent student survey, incidents of local students being picked on or bullied while on school property jumped to 23.4 percent last year from 14.5 percent reported in 2011.
The new policy is a starting point for improvement, said Rogers. It includes a clear definition of bullying, requirements for parent notification, and well-defined requirements for administrators to follow when responding to reports of bullying.
“Our first step will be to get this new policy out to everybody and get them to read it so they know what is says,” he said. “We will have training for teachers, staff, coaches, and volunteers in the future that will involve a combination of online and face-to-face training.”
The new policy defines bullying as intentionally or knowingly committing an act that endangers the physical health or safety of a school employee or student, and is done for the purpose of placing a school employee or student in fear of physical harm or harm to their property.
Bullying may also include aggressive behavior that is intended to cause distress and harm that is repeated over time, according to the policy.
The policy also requires school officials to notify parents if their child is involved in an incident of bullying, or threatens to commit suicide.
The policy further requires a written report be made of each complaint and a prompt investigation by a school administrator.
Actions taken must include procedures to protect the victim from further bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, or hazing and from retaliation for reporting the conduct.
The policy also allows the school district to take disciplinary action if off-campus speech, including cyberbullying on social media, creates a substantial disruption to the school environment.
However, it will take more than the new policy to stop bullying, according to Shawn Bennett, a Grantsville resident who says his son has been a target of bullying. Bennett started the Facebook page, “Zero Tolerance – Stop Bullying in Tooele County.”
“It sounds good on paper,” he said. “You can make anything look good on paper, but I’m afraid nothing is going to change.”
Reducing bullying will take more than a one time training event or an assembly, according to Rogers. It involves the whole school climate.
“It is a systematic process,” he said. “It involves the school classroom, teachers, parents and individuals.”
Bennett agrees that parents need to be involved if things are going to change.
“We agree that bullying starts at home,” he said. “But we expect schools to protect our kids. Right now administrators aren’t doing their job.”
Bennett’s expectation for school’s response for bullying includes parental notification, involvement by law enforcement from the beginning if the incident involves violations of the law, and parents to be kept in the loop about the process.
“I know that the school can’t tell the specific discipline action they take on a student,” he said. “But they can communicate better and get parents more involved and be involved in community groups that address bullying themselves.”
Even before adopting the new policy, Rogers said, the school district already took steps to address bullying in schools.
A grant paid for a new anti-bullying program, called “Second Step,” that was started at seven elementary schools last fall.
Some elementary schools have already adopted other anti-bullying programs, according to Rogers. For example, there’s Settlement Canyon Elementary use of Rachel’s Challenge.
Rachel’s Challenge is a program designed to build safe school environments. It was developed by the father and step-mother of Rachel Scott, the first student killed at Columbine High School. It is based on the writings and life of Rachel.
The district also just concluded a series of five seminars for parents, held in different locations around the county, which covered the topics of mental health, Internet safety, substance abuse, and bullying.
Soon the district will unveil a district-wide tip line for bullying that will allow parents, students, and community parents to report bullying by phone, text, or through an online application, said Rogers.
“Student safety is important. We don’t ignore bullying” he said. “We have a zero tolerance policy for bullying, but we can’t completely stop all bullying. We can take efforts to prevent bullying and properly respond to all reports of bullying.”
The district’s policy on bullying can be reviewed at the district’s website. Go online to www. tooeleschools.org and under the public info tab click on “policy manual” and go to section 11.
According to www.stopbullying.org, which is a website by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying is described as unwanted aggressive behavior that is repeated and involves a power imbalance. Threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, or excluding someone from a group on purpose are also listed.