Monday, June 1, 2020

Bullying is no longer an option

Bullying in our Stillwater County schools is a relevant issue for parents, school administrators, teachers and students. So I took the question to a local source for further illumination.
I enjoyed a two-hour conversation with Superintendent Al Sipes who is retiring this summer after 14 years overseeing schools. He ’s still clearing his superintendent’s plate of the chores he needs to get out of the way, but I appreciated that he had the time for our long conversation. He loves the job, just as he enjoys living in a small town, but after 35 years in educational administration, he’s had enough.
According to Al (as he’s known to many unless you’re a student who’s been called on the carpet by a large bear of a man with a deep bass voice and stern brow looking down on you), there’s been a strict policy on bullying for the last six or seven years in Montana schools. He noted wryly that the legislature is now trying to pass a state law requiring Montana schools to have anti-bullying policies, but in fact every school has for some years had its own policies.
Montana does, however, have a state-wide practice of addressing bullying, hazing and harassment (all considered activities which interfere with students paying attention to learning). Al says it works as long as administrators, teachers and even coaches are doing their job.
He went on to discuss the fact that there is indeed a definition of bullying. In a situation in which a student is being hassled by one or more antagonists it requires 1) a person who does the deed, 2) a person who suffers the consequences of being bullied, and 3) onlookers who observe the event.
If no one stands up and calls this inappropriate behavior what it is, the onlookers have only encouraged the miscreant to continue his anti-social (or “misguided and morally wrong”) behavior without doing anything to help the kid being bullied. Without an onlooker it is only one kid being mean to another. Parents who complain about their child being bullied often don’t understand that this complex legal definition is required to ensure that the bullyboy (or girl) is disciplined. So on their own initiative or with the advice of an incompetent or irresponsible lawyer, parents can take the school to (expensive) court.
It’s sad, because while bullying used to occur only during the six or seven hours that children were in school, now the hazing goes on after school via social media or even anonymous phone calls to the victim while he/she is at home.
It can even go on during mid-winter holidays or over the summer, and therefore parents need to encourage their kids to talk about and name the perpetrator, even if the only thing the child can do is to report the matter to his/her teacher, principal or superintendent.
What it all seemed to boil down to me was Al’s statement that parents need to be involved in helping their kids deal with tough issues in a way that is effective in both the short and long run. We can do no less for our children, and we’re lucky to have a school that supports what parents should be doing.
Dave Grimland is a Columbus resident and former U.S. diplomat, having served as a cultural affairs officer in Athens, Greece, public affairs officer in Nicosia, Cyprus, Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey and Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was also the deputy director of the U.S. Information Office at the embassy in New Delhi, India. His career with the American diplomatic service spanned 28 years.