Bullies aren’t wanted here

School District launches new program to make kids safer

CRARYVILLE–If a student doesn’t feel safe he or she can’t learn. Bullying can mar a child’s life to such an extent that it can drive them to suicide, as it allegedly did in the case of high school student Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Mass., last January 14.

To prevent any similar tragedy here, this fall the Taconic Hills Central School District will roll out a major anti-bullying initiative, the Positive Behavior Intervention Program. In the past, the school has also used other  programs. They include Character Counts in which even the youngest students sign contracts promising to behave in a way they have all agreed is best, and Rachel’s Challenge, a violence prevention program inspired by the first victim at the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which encourages good deeds and looking out for one’s neighbor.

The latest program involves training the whole school to make sure that everyone understands what bullying is, how to spot it and what can be done to prevent it.

Experts agree that bullying differs from ordinary conflict: it involves repetitive, abusive behavior that is physical or verbal and can result in the victim’s humiliation, embarrassment and isolation. Bullying can affect academic success, life success and the victim’s sense well being for years to come. It can cause low self esteem and depression and can lead to suicide.

This week at Taconic Hills, a group of teachers and staff, including bus drivers, met with Sandra Gardner, assistant superintendent, to discuss how they will raise awareness of bullying throughout the school district and change the culture and climate of the school community to prevent bullying.

On Superintendent’s Day, the first day back to school for staff, all will listen to a speaker on the topic before breaking into small groups to discuss the problem with trained staff. At its August meeting, the school board will vote on new language for its code of conduct that will ensure a clear definition of bullying and a consistent system of intervention and consequences.

Teaching tolerance and respect for each person’s uniqueness is a technique believed to help prevent bullying, and closer communication between teachers and bus drivers may develop as a result of this initiative. One person in the group mentioned the cafeteria as a problem spot where more supervision or activities might be needed.

“Once you get it started it helps and saves time by averting problems throughout the year,” said a teacher.

“Some kids just can’t come forward to complain,” said another.

But the new program points to a heightened awareness that promises help when needed and enforcement of the bottom line, that bullying is not allowed and will not be tolerated.

Two anti-bullying bills are approaching approval in New York this year. The Dignity for All Students Act was passed by both houses of the state legislature and awaits Governor Patterson’s signature. It prohibits harassment and discrimination in public schools, on school property and at school functions based on “actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex.”

The bill has been criticized for not addressing cyber behavior.

Governor Patterson’s own bill, which has not received legislative approval at this point, would make schools subject to the state Human Rights Law and would require the posting of an anti-violence hot line number in all school.

Statistics provided by the OLWEUS, an educational organization, show that 17 to 23% of students in grades 4 to 6 had been bullied, while 20% had bullied others.

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