Bullying Policy Mandated for KTJUSD

Assembly Bill 3632 mandates schools adopt a district wide anti-bullying and harassment policy. / Photo by Vonice Nelson, Two Rivers Tribune.

Work Continues to Ensure Safe School for All

By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

When J. Nichols ‘Smoke’ lost his teenage daughter in a tragic bullying incident two years ago he decided to take his message to the streets and schools throughout the country. A rapper and hip-hop music artist of Souix and Chippewa descent, Smoke has a talent for reaching youth on a platform they can relate to.

“How cool is it to have a rapper for a dad,” he said. “But she still didn’t want to confide in us. We never realized how intense this pressure was, the pressure she was under.”

His daughter was found dead after playing a choking game that her peers had pressured her to play. A look inside her journal revealed to her father that the bullying and pressure she experienced from a group of students daunted her for more than a year.

“I’ve made it my first priority to inform anybody who will listen about the severity of bullying in schools,” he said. “I’ve dedicated myself to something a lot bigger than me.”

The Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District (KTJUSD) is taking notice of the bullying problems within the district. And, although some parents feel little is happening to protect their children, there are small steps underway at the policy level to begin addressing the problem in a more formal way.

“We have yet to adopt a district-wide bullying policy,” KTJUSD Superintendent Mike Reid said. “Because of Assembly Bill 3632 we are now mandated to adopt an anti-bullying policy.”

Just last week administrators of various school districts in Humboldt County met with their legal counsel, North Coast School Legal Consortium, to discuss mandates required by AB3632. Not only is the school required by law to adopt a district-wide anti-bullying and harassment policy, they are also required to adopt a district-wide cyber bullying policy to help prevent harassment via text messaging, Facebook and other digital social media.

Northern Humboldt Unified School District is the only Humboldt County School with an approved policy on the books that addresses bullying. Its language suggests that disruptive behavior will be treated seriously because, “all students have the right to be educated in a positive learning environment free from disruptions. Students shall be expected to exhibit appropriate conduct that does not infringe upon the rights of others or interfere with the school program while on school grounds, while going to tor coming from school, while at school activities and while on district transportation.”

Conduct that endangers students, staff, and others is strictly prohibited and includes “harassment of students or staff, including bullying , intimidation, so-called ‘cyber bullying’ hazing or initiation activity, ridicule, extortion, or any other verbal, written or physical conduct that causes or threatens to cause bodily harm or emotional suffering.”

Northern Humboldt’s policy also has a clause that paves the way for students and staff to receive instruction that promotes communication, social skills, as well as other skills such as identifying early warning signs of harassment and intimidation, and prevention and intervention tactics.

At KTJUSD Reid said their legal counsel and the Humboldt County Office of Education provided them with a suggested policy framework that they plan to tailor to the district’s specific needs.

“Once we have a policy in place we have that to go back on,” Reid said. “It will provide common language and will help make opportunities for training etc., more accessible.”

Currently, if a bullying or harassment issue arises, each site principal is responsible for handling the incident. There are different levels of disciplinary action that can be taken, but most cases, with the exception of severe incidences, end up on the school counselor’s desk.

This is where most parents who have contacted the TRT begin to complain. They don’t feel that the matters are dealt with adequately or consistently saying matters persist even after brought to school administrators’ attention.

One school counselor, Angela Manassero, works at four different school sites within the KTJUSD. She said not all cases are referred to her, but when gets them she assesses the level of intervention needed.

“We have a tier of responses to intervention,” Manassero said. “The most intense level requires one-on-one work. Most of the students I work with are on a one-on-one basis.”

But many of the situations that arise, she said, concern conflict management.

“The main point of addressing bullying and harassment is developing empathy. In my opinion, a lot of it presents as bullying, and for a lot of students, it’s their way of trying to get attention and some students don’t have the social skills to make friends. I’ll see students go up to each other and give them a push or say something mean. I’ll intervene and start an activity, and then suddenly they are getting along. They are trying to make connections, but they just don’t know how.”

It is estimated that 160,000 students in America skip school each day out of fear that they will be physically or verbally abused by their peers. According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ASPCC) many more attend school in a chronic state of anxiety and depression.

Although there are many reasons students skip school, KTJUSD has the highest rates of truancy in the county and is well above the state average in suspensions. According to Dataquest, a service provided by the Department of Education, 63 percent of KTJUSD students are truant meaning they have three or more unexcused absences. This compared to nearly 18 percent of the students in the county and 28 percent of the students in the state.

As for Smoke, he continues to speak his message about positivity. In May he will give a motivational speech in Ukiah and said he’d be willing to book something in the K-T region at that time.

“The school systems are failing in a lot of areas,” he said. There is a lot of internal reform that needs to happen.”

Look for more on bullying in upcoming editions of the TRT.

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The following is a reprint from the Two Rivers Tribune Volume 12 Issue 6

By Karl Fisher, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

12 Steps to take if your child has problems in school

If your child has problems in school, either academic or behavioral, these are steps that parents should take to “get to the bottom of things” or to help with the situation. These apply to children of all ages, but are probably most relevant for elementary school children. Although there is no special priority to these steps, clearly the first four things are very important in terms of fostering long-term improvement for the child.

1)      Look at the home life before blaming the school. Make sure the home environment provides loving concern and emotional stability. Uninvolved parents just don’t cut it. Being an effective parent takes much time and energy. Homes characterized by marital conflict and/or physical or emotional abuse are damaging to children, and often lead to the child having behavioral problems. Anger at school often represents anger that is displaced from home. Clean up this area of the child’s life if you want a child to ultimately thrive in school

2)      Active substance abuse in the home can be very damaging. Substance abusing parents, if they are not flagrantly abusive, often create neglectful, unstructured environments. Chaos makes children insecure, and it certainly doesn’t help in getting homework done. If substance abuse is a problem, engage in a program of recovery.

3)      Tighten up the structure and supervision in the home.  Make sure the child has a consistent time every day or evening that is devoted to homework or other educational activities, such as independent reading. Make yourself available to support your child during this time. Make other privileges, like playing PS-2, riding a quad or talking on the phone dependent upon how well your child complies with education time.

4)      Talk to the school personnel and get as much data as possible concerning the child. Visit and observe the child at school, in the classroom and at recess. Attend conferences regularly. Cooperate with the teacher in starting a daily progress report or behavioral chart. Find out your child’s point of view of what is happening, and compare it to the school’s perspective. You can deal with things much better if you communicate and if you are well-informed from a variety of viewpoints.

5)      If steps one through four have been covered thoroughly, and there are still problems, one may consider changing the school environment. This may include changing teachers, classrooms or even schools. Different environments can lead to improvements; some children may need more structure and others may need more nurturing. However, make sure this is not merely avoiding the problem; don’t scapegoat other entities if it is the home life that is the real problem. Your child may benefit from changing the environment, but, at the same time, don’t give the message that one can run away when there are problems.

6)      Behavior problems are often correlated with academic problems. Consider special services, such as tutoring, for your child. Or if your child has learning problems or seems in some ways “slow,” push the school to have your child evaluated by the school district. However, realize this step often takes much effort and assertiveness.  Due to budgetary problems and bureaucratic neglect, many districts and administrators do very little to help learning-challenged children, (Do you really want to anger the school district? How true is this? It may just be an opinion.) even though this inaction is often outside of compliance with the law. If your child has Tribal heritage seek out Tribal advocates to support your child.  If your child has already been designated for special needs, and has such things as IEP (individual education plan) meetings, familiarize yourself with the relevant law governing special needs students.

7)      Have your child thoroughly evaluated by a pediatrician or child psychiatrist, particularly for school problems that are chronic and have not responded to other interventions. Many problems such as ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or psychotic behaviors are primarily brain-based. Some children may suffer from subtle seizure problems or unknown medical problems. Lab work or other medical tests may be very illuminating. In spite of some of the idiosyncratic cases popularized by the media (such as that some antidepressants are linked to teenage suicide) in many cases, finding the right medication for your child, if the diagnosis warrants it, may result in dramatic improvement.

8)      If it is difficult for your child to perform well at school, consider involving him/her in other extra-curricular activities. Some children excel in athletics. Others may benefit from cub scouts, 4-H, or ballet. Although rural communities often are deficient in offering a variety of child activities, make an attempt to help your child find something that suits his/her temperament. This may necessitate driving your child to other nearby communities. (One source of child activities is “Dream Quest” in Willow Creek.) Remember that not every child is academically-inclined. For a child without academic aptitude, one’s self-esteem may suffer in the school environment.  It is therefore important to help a child excel in other activities in which they may have more aptitude, particularly if this bolsters self-esteem. Also remember that it is okay if your child ends up going to trade school or enlisting in the military instead of entering college.

9)      Consider taking parenting classes or involving your family and child in counseling. However, do not just “farm” your child out to a counselor but plan on being actively involved in the counseling. Involvement of the whole family is usually more effective than a child being seen alone. Also be aware that one-to-one counseling seldom results in immediate behavioral changes in the classroom. Counseling may give the child someone to talk to and may bolster self-esteem but it seldom makes the child instantly behave better. Behavioral changes in the home usually result more effectively when the parents change what they are doing. Changes in a child’s school behavior usually result more dramatically when there are focused changes in the classroom or home environment. Counseling is an adjunct tool that works most effectively when it involves the child’s environment.

10)   Consider involving your child in a spiritual community, particularly one that is nurturing and supportive rather than judgmental or punitive. Local churches may have pastors or other members who are good role models, and some may have youth groups that your child can join. For Indian children it is important to become acquainted with elders, traditional beliefs and/or the ceremonial dances. A meaningful spiritual connection, regardless of the specific religion, can do much to improve a child’s sense of identity and to improve values. This, in turn, can improve behavior in the long-run.

11)    Entertain the possibility that your child could be using alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse is more likely a factor if a child’s behavior suddenly worsens from a relatively good baseline, or if there are other dramatic changes in the child’s life such as changes in friends or changes in interests. If you suspect this is a problem you can set up a family counseling appointment with a professional and have the child assessed. However, be aware that substance abuse problems often co-exist with other problems, such as substance abuse in the home, other dysfunctions in the home, or other cognitive or emotional problems with the child. Children who have ADHD, depression, or other problems often may also have substance problems.

12)    Maintain attitudes of patience and flexibility, and always be accepting of your child.   Be open to different approaches of working with your child, even if these may rub against your own biases. If you are typically conservative try to consider some alternative or offbeat approaches. If you are typically new age or Native traditional, be open to the advantages of Western medicine. In spite of all the rhetoric to the contrary, formal education is only one dimension of your child’s life; there is a lot more to education than formal education. Think of education in a very broad way.  Consider that every thoughtful and caring word uttered to your child is educational, and that doing weekend projects together can also be seen as learning experiences.  And be aware that home schooling is currently undergoing a boom in our country, particularly for parents who feel that institutional education may be too rigid or too insensitive to the needs of a given child.

So after reading all these things one may ask— Do I put all of this advice into effect with my own children?  That is, do I practice what I preach?  Probably I do to some extent, but then in many ways I do not. Like most parents I am not perfect. I become angry. I become frustrated.  Sometimes, I probably act more like my children than as a parent.  (“Shrinks,” unfortunately, raise as many problem kids as anyone else.)  So, then, what gives me the right to write an article like this, since I am probably just one more of those over-educated hypocrites spewing advice to the general public?

My response to this is—try to do what I say, not necessarily what I may sometimes do.  And I will say that, in spite of my shortcomings, I keep trying. Also, if Dr. James Dobson or Dr. Phil can give advice to the public, why can’t I?

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