Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bullying: Are we Playing Offense of Defense?

Yesterday I attended the Governor's Summit on Bullying Prevention in Des Moines. Hearing the stories that some young  victims endure is truly heartbreaking. Even sadder is when these victims feel there is no place left to turn, no one to talk to, and the utter feeling of helplessness that no one can stop the pain and torture. Sometimes these stories have tragic endings. According to the 2010 Iowa Youth Survey, 50% of Iowa students have indicated that they have been victims of bullying. Nationwide, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 students commit suicide annually due to the effects of bullying.

At Hudson, we have taken a very strong stand against bullying and have been steadfast in our protection of bullying victims. The consequences are severe and meant to send a strong message: Your behavior is inexcusable and there is no place for it in our school. We have employed a three strikes and you are out mantra in the district. If you are found guilty of bullying three times during your tenure as a student in one of our schools, you are recommended for expulsion. During my time as superintendent, we have held expulsion hearings and the Board of Directors has in fact expelled students. Indeed, the message from the Board of Directors all the way down to the student body has been clear and unmistakable. 

In the classroom, teachers and counselors regularly extol the virtues of acting with kindness, standing up for one another, and doing the right thing. Countless lessons are taught about how to disarm bullies, teaching our students that character counts, and the Hudson Keys of Success are good rules to live by. We employ such  programs as Second Step, and hold regular meetings with students in small and large groups alike. But the question remains, are we doing enough?

So far this school year, we have had a handful of reported cases of bullying. A few of those have been founded and appropriate levels of discipline were assigned. What keeps me up at night is the fact that we have had a handful of reported cases of bullying this year. I wonder, which are the ones that haven't been reported that we don't even know about?

Our teachers are trained to be vigilant and observant, and continue to receive anti-bullying training. The administrators and counselors in our school are relentless in their pursuit of student safety in the district. Thanks to the hard work of everyone in the district, our investigations are thorough, complete, and end with the right result.

Unfortunately, we are not able to catch everything. Inevitably, a teacher will turn around to write something on the board, something will happen in the hallway out of earshot of the teacher, on the bus, playground, at the football game Friday night....

It may be months later during an unrelated discussion that we hear the comment, "My child has been bullied for months, and nothing has been done about it." Folks, if we don't know about it, we can't fix it. That is what I fear, and this is how we can all help: tell us. If we know about it, trust me--we will address it. Our Board of Directors is very progressive in this regard and has set specific policies. This is taken very seriously.

Therein lies the rub, doesn't it? If we tell you that it will be taken care of, you may left wondering, "Okay, what exactly did they do? Was the student given a warning? Suspension? What?" That is where we have to ask for a little faith on your part. As much as you may disagree, FERPA does not allow us to share what that consequence was, as much as we may want to or like to.

If you or someone you know has been a target of bullies, let us know. If you see someone being picked on, by all means step in and say something. Believe me, we can't fix this alone. We need your help, and we need the help of our students. As one speaker said yesterday, "Positive social change will not come from us as adults--it will come from our young people saying ENOUGH!"

Finally, I would like to share a couple of resources that you may find helpful. First, and I can't emphasize this enough, if you see something or hear something, report it! It is easy as picking up the phone, or you can even report it online here. You can also visit

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