Tahlequah Daily Press

October 17, 2013

Saying no to bullies

School districts have worked to decrease bullying for over 10 years

By SEAN ROWLEY
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and Tahlequah Public Schools observed Oklahoma’s Bullying Prevention Week Sept. 30-Oct. 4. But one man says awareness events mean little if bullying isn’t addressed year-round.

Fred Poteete, a preventionist for TPS, has long been a proponent of ending bullying on and off school grounds. He said there is disagreement on what constitutes bullying.

“I sat on a Center for Disease Control panel of 12 people a couple of years ago,” he said. “It included experts from UCLA, the University of Buffalo, Clemson. We talked for four days. We wanted to come up with a practicable definition of bullying that schools could use. We’re are supposed to receive a document including the definition sometime this fall. It has taken that long to go through the process.”

Poteete is nationally recognized for his anti-bullying efforts. When former State Sen. Herb Rozell co-authored and introduced the School Bullying Prevention Act, passed in 2002, he credited Poteete as a creator of the legislation.

The act drew attention from beyond Oklahoma, and Poteete was interviewed on national TV programs. He is frequently invited to other districts to discuss anti-bullying measures.

Several activities were held at Tahlequah Middle School during Bullying Prevention Week. One one day, students were assigned seats during lunch to talk with less-familiar classmates.

Fifth-grade and elective class students were given Reasor’s grocery bags to decorate with anti-bullying themes. The bags will be returned to Reasor’s for use by customers.

Students, teachers, administrators and staff signed anti-bullying pledge sheets, and the TMS student group Stand for the Silent marched in the homecoming parade on Oct. 4.

“We also had a day when students wrote their names on pieces of paper, then wrote something positive about the other students on their papers,” Poteete said. “The comments had to deal with character. They couldn’t write that they were good-looking, dressed nicely or their parents drove nice cars.”

Because Oklahoma now has guidelines districts must follow, anti-bullying policies are similar from school to school. Bullying can be physical, social or emotional. In many districts, sexual bullying is addressed in harassment policy.

Separate policy may also govern hazing.

Dr. Marilyn Dewoody, HPS superintendent, said the district takes reports of bullying “very seriously.”

“When we receive a report, our first step is to call the parents,” Dewoody said. “We then thoroughly investigate the incident.”

Dewoody said technology has added the frontier of social media, which many schools are still learning to manage.

“Sometimes with cyber-bullying, it can be difficult to determine what we are able to do,” she said. “If a student posts something on their own Facebook page that bullies another student, we can intervene if it has an effect at school.”

Schools can intervene in cyber-bullying if it is disruptive to instruction or causes anxiety sufficient to interfere with a student’s focus on class or activities.

Any threats of violence can bring school intervention.

State statute defines bullying as actions - including gestures, written or verbal expression, and physical acts - that a reasonable person recognizes will harm another student, damage a student’s property, place another student in reasonable fear of harm, or insult or demean a student in such a way as to interfere with a school’s educational mission.

Policies should be consulted each year, because districts conduct frequent assessments and make adjustments often.

Tahlequah Public Schools and Hulbert Public Schools list their policies online  at www.tahlequahschools.org and www.hulbertriders.com. Both include pages to report bullying.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

For more information about bullying prevention, go to tahlequahTDP.com

WHAT YOU SAID

The Tahlequah Daily Press recently asked readers to respond to an online poll. The question was: Among other things, October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Which statement most describes your experience?

Of 157 respondents, a plurality of 68 voters, or 43 percent, voted for “I have been a victim of bullying. Fifty-three voters, or 34 percent said “I have been both a victim of bullying and have at times bullied others.”

Answering to “I have never been a victim of bullying, nor have I bullied anyone” were 26 voters, or 17 percent. Seven voters, or four percent, answered “I have bullied other people,” and three voters, or two percent, voted for “I’m not sure whether I’ve bullied or been bullied.”

srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com