Archive for Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Lawrence, anti-bullying efforts depend on the school

Dylan Theno experienced bullying from other boys when he was growing up in Tonganoxie to the point where he had to quit high school. His family eventually won a settlement in federal court against the school district.  Now 23 years-old and out of college, Dylan has moved on with his life in Overland Park.

Dylan Theno experienced bullying from other boys when he was growing up in Tonganoxie to the point where he had to quit high school. His family eventually won a settlement in federal court against the school district. Now 23 years-old and out of college, Dylan has moved on with his life in Overland Park.

December 13, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series examining efforts to reduce bullying in the Lawrence school district.


Stopping bullying

Dylan Theno talks about how bulling started when he was in seventh grade and how school leaders responded when by the time he was in high school. Enlarge video

Consistency and equity are clear goals for the Lawrence school district, as exhibited by a number of projects, programs and initiatives:

• Maintaining a core curriculum.

• Striving for three-section elementaries.

• Providing equal fields, concessions stands and restrooms at both high schools.

But when it comes to bullying, a problem potentially affecting all students at all grade levels in all schools, the district takes a different approach.

While the district indeed adheres to a state requirement that every school have a plan to address and prevent bullying, just about every school has a different way of approaching the problem.

“Each building has a written plan,” said Kevin Harrell, the district’s division director for student intervention services. “We don’t have one as a district.”

Each principal is responsible for determining how to educate kids about bullying, how to prevent bullying incidents and how to deal with bullying problems when they occur. They pay attention, take down reports and work to solve problems as each plan allows.

The district, overall, does not track instances of bullying, nor does it formally monitor where problems might be arising or where cases are on the decline — data that could be used to guide which plans might be working and which need improvement.

The district does compile anonymous data in the form of a survey given each year to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. It’s part of the Communities that Care survey administered statewide, giving decision makers a look at a variety of issues facing students today, and how students are dealing with them.

Rise in bullying

According to the survey, one in four students in the Lawrence school district say they have been bullied at school. That’s up from 23 percent in 2008.

And the number of students seeing that bullying exists is rising, according to the survey. While 42 percent of students four years ago reported that they’d never seen bullying at school, the rate for 2011 had dropped to 24.3 percent.

“We value student perception data to help monitor the impact of our programs,” Harrell said. “However, it is important to remember that these are ‘student perceptions,’ which can be influenced by many factors.”

Again, specifics about just how many bullying incidents — whether it’s cyber, verbal or physical — have occurred at specific schools is not on file at district headquarters. Nor is it required to be.

But, beginning this year, schools statewide will be reporting their own data to the Kansas State Department of Education. The numbers will form a benchmark so state officials can get a better sense of what’s happening in schools and how the state might be able to guide decision making at the district level.

“I think it will be helpful for us,” Harrell said.

At West Middle School, the number of documented bullying incidents has been on the rise:

• 10 in 2007-08.

• 19 in 2008-09.

• 18 in 2009-10.

• 24 in 2010-11.

The numbers could be rising because awareness is higher, said Jeff Harkin, the assistant principal who compiled the numbers. He considers it a good sign that cases are being reported, which gives adults at the school — all adults, including counselors, teachers, administrators, library staff, cateferia workers and others — a chance to make a difference.

“I don’t think kids of this age are behaviorally any different than they used to be,” Harkin said. “They’re bringing it more to our attention, and we’re addressing it more in disciplinary ways, so we have a record of it, and I think kids are being less bullied as a result. It gets addressed and stopped.”

It’s all part of the school’s anti-bullying plan, one developed more than four years ago. The plan includes presentations for each grade level, outlining what bullying is, how it can and should be reported, and making connections with West’s school resource officer to emphasize that authorities are both available and enabled to handle bullying problems.

And when bullying occurs, the school makes it clear from the beginning that such actions will not be tolerated and that perpetrators will face “escalating consequences,” Principal Myron Melton said.

Among them: a conversation with the principal, detention, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension and parent meetings. The key is assessing consequences that make bullying “not worth it to them,” and that show the victim that school is a safe place to be and where adults and even fellow students can help.

“They know we will take action,” Melton said.

Educational leaders don’t need to be reminded of the importance of paying attention to bullying and bullying matters — this is student safety, after all — but the importance of establishing plans and seeing that they are followed became especially clear to schools and administrators in Lawrence and statewide back in 2005, following the case of an area teen.

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On the street

What do you think schools can do to help prevent bullying?

Maybe be more involved on the playground — monitoring child relationships.

More responses

‘They didn’t do anything’

Dylan Theno hadn’t found much help from the schools he’d attended in Tonganoxie, where he’d faced constant bullying as a student that led him to leave Tonganoxie High School in 2003.

The verbal taunts started in seventh grade, after a classmate started a rumor related to finding him masturbating in a bathroom. Then people started calling him gay.

Never mind that none of it was true. Theno would tell his teachers, administrators — anyone — that he was being harassed, bullied, verbally abused.

“They knew, and they didn’t do anything about it,” Theno said recently at his Overland Park home, before heading off for his management job at a local bar and grill.

He recalls one day when a student’s taunts — “I walked into school and the guy got in my face and screamed, calling me a faggot,” Theno said — had heightened tensions to an all-to-familiar point.

“A couple of the teachers actually joined in,” Theno recalls. “One laughed at me.”

The punches that would end up being thrown between students wouldn’t last long. One of the “smallest girls in the school,” not teachers, soon jumped in to break things up, Theno said, continuing a common theme in which he couldn’t count on school authorities to help.

Theno ended up dropping out, earning a GED and taking the Tonganoxie school district to federal court, accusing the district of failing to protect him from persistent bullying and harassment. The district’s insurance company eventually settled the case in 2005, agreeing to pay Theno and his family $440,000.

Theno offers his case as an example of how district leaders should be vigilant in the prevention of bullying and its lasting and compounding effects.

A posted code of conduct declaring that violence — including any words or physical actions that would harm another person — would not be tolerated on school grounds or during school activities merely had emphasized the ineffectiveness Theno had seen in school protections.

A visible code couldn’t shield him from painful abuse.

“They had it on signs,” Theno said. “That was hanging in their office, and they still didn’t follow it. The code of conduct was violated, and they never did anything about it.”

In Lawrence, Harrell said, schools have been effective in implementing their own plans and seeing that issues are dealt with quickly and appropriately. He gets involved when a school’s plan needs to be adjusted, or a parent grows concerned if a school isn’t doing enough.

“If the building can’t handle it,” he said, “I’ll find out about it.”


Kerry Putthoff 6 years, 6 months ago

Ironic as it may seem, Dylan's father and uncle were two of the biggest bullies in the Tonganoxie school district when I was growing up! I remember this explicitly, also being flipped to the ground on one occasion by his uncle when I was very young. I would also add that Dylan did his fair share of bullying also as my son was the victim of his karate laced beating accompanied by his sister at the time. I witnessed this myself! We were at a church function with our two children and they went out to play and were confronted by Dylan and his sister. Dylan was the aggressor early on and when the other kids had enough, he started getting his what for and he didn't like it! Everyone was bullied to some degree in school, it's part of growing up, this is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black here!

Bobbi Walls 6 years, 6 months ago

@tongie1, My daughter has been being bullied for the last 3 years, it is not a part of growing up, when you are afraid to ride the bus, or even go to school. Bullying is a huge issue in this district and many others around here. While I have seen the school that she attends step up, I will say as a whole the district sucks at helping those who are being bullied. It took me calling the police on the kids for them to get the hint, and they started behaving better, but now that it's been a couple of months they are starting to do the same things again. I went to school in Tongie and bullying was not a part of my growing up either, you must live in a different world if you think it's okay for kids to make threats and call your 13 year old daughter a whore. That's not normal if you ask me.

Kerry Putthoff 6 years, 6 months ago

I think you missed my point... I do not agree with bulling what so ever! I am saying that most everyone is bullied at one point in there life. If you have not been, then great for you! You are lucky! My wife also was bullied, threatened with violence and lived the hell that you talk of, so if you think I am condoning this, you are sadly mistaken!

anonymous21 6 years, 6 months ago

The problem tongie1 is that YOU are missing the point. You believe that bullying is just a physical act. I agree, everyone at one point in their life is pushed down on the playground and in your mind that is bullying. This is where you are wrong. You are saying his father and uncle (who have nothing to do with this story by the way) pushed you to the ground in the 1970s, 40 years later things are much different. Bullying now just doesn’t have to have a physical component to it, the most destructive form which Mr. Theno received, is verbal bullying, verbal assault really, and that is what is causing so much damage to kids in THIS generation. It is the words and the rumors and the posts on facebook and the constant feelings of worthlessness because of the WORDS that are said. This issue is far bigger than Mr. Theno, he is just an example, never mind the money or the lawsuit, that’s not the moral of this story, this is an article about what is happening in every school across this country. The statistics of children and adolescents being diagnosed with depression and even committing suicide because of bullying are startling. You may want to look at them. So unless you have had a child who has been bullied in THIS decade and can fully understand what is happening in schools today you should not comment on this story.

crazyredneckmomma4 6 years, 6 months ago

Four of my kids attend Eudora High and there they say they have a "zero tolerance" for bullying. I have told my kids if they are bullied to follow protocol... tell someone, a teacher, counselor, principal, some adult. And if that doesn't work... Fight Back. I tell my kids this because on 2 separate occasions 2 of my kids were bullied(and yes "talking crap" is a form of bullying) and they told an adult. On one occasion, my daughter was told to "let it roll off your back" the bullying continued. The teacher(adult) did nothing more. So my daughter fought back. Both occasions my daughters were suspended for sticking up for themselves and stopping the bullying. I know fighting is not the answer and my kids know better than to go around just picking on people but when protocol is followed and nothing is done to stop the bullying by the school then my girls made is stop. On one occasion my daughter came home in tears from the bullying still the school did nothing even after I called the school and told them what happened. The "zero tolerance" policy is just something to make the school look like they care. I, too, was forced to drop out and complete my GED due to bullying, I'll be damned if that happens to my kids!!!

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 6 months ago

My aunt used to work in a school disrict office outside of Kansas for a number of years. She told me once on the subject of "problem childern" i.e. bullies, that when you met the parents, you knew what the "problem" was. Some parents with obnoxious opinions on a variety of subjects, anger towards most anything and other outrageous notions directly affect their childern who go off to school to act out their parents' behaviours. Childern are not born to be violent, offensive or angry, they are taught by the actions and attitudes of their parents. I think there needs to be some mechanism to direct anti-bullying efforts towards such parents, they are not difficult to detect, as my aunt mentioned to me.

Steve Miller 6 years, 6 months ago

Yeoman is totally correct. The kids are taught it is the environment they ar reared in . One old saying that holds true to date is " The apple does not fall far from the tree " . Thats about all you need to know about where bullies come from.

mom_of_three 6 years, 6 months ago

My daughter's teacher DID witness her being bullied and when we met with him to discuss it, just told us that they needed to learn to get along. Never mind that it had been happening on and off for three years. And I did tell her to stand up for herself, but my kid was afraid of school policy.
When working with the teachers doesn't work, go to the principal or someone and make yourself heard.

homemama 6 years, 6 months ago

I have worked in an elementary school as a para-educator and was bullied by a teacher, and witnessed this so-called teacher bully students as well. Just because you have never seen it, ksfbcoach, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. This teacher also was known for admonishing students that they brought bullying behaviors down upon themselves. Sadly, the principal didn't like to upset people, and would never take care of the issue even though it was brought to attention several times.
Again, just because you have been fortunate enough to not have witnessed teachers bullying students and others, doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

ferrislives 6 years, 6 months ago

ksfbcoach (anonymous) says… "Bullcrap. I have taught for a long time, and I haven't liked every teacher I have ever worked with, but not one, not one would ever have done this. They would have stepped in and stopped the "bullying."

You're right ksfbcoach! Usually teachers stand around with each other at recess talking while the real bullying occurs. This was my experience as a child, and it's been my children's experience as well. If that one behavior changed, more kids would be happier at school.

Although I do agree that most kids need to learn to stand up for themselves at some point, from my personal experience, they end up getting in more trouble than the bully did in the first place. That's why the system is broken, and Lawrence is no better.

ferrislives 6 years, 6 months ago

Yes havecents, you should blame all parents and none of the teachers. You must be a die-hard blinder-wearing labor union supporter too. Anyone with half of a brain would know that bullying is a complex issue, and teachers, yes teachers, need to take some of the blame. Stupid parents do too. Do you really "havecents"? I think not.

ferrislives 6 years, 6 months ago

"I'm just a person who believes that our society is in trouble and schools are not to blame."

Nuf said.

Alceste 6 years, 6 months ago

I wonder if ksfbcoach is indeed a "coach".

Moronic remarks from "coaches" encourage bullying and such.

ksfbcoach notes:"We are raising a bunch of pansies. Teach your child to stand up for themselves."

Them two guys at this place called Columbine High School grew weary of ksfbcoach's dream world and gave, using tongie1's language "...the what for...." didn't they?

All children in our family....and that's including them all..... from 4th couisins to natural born child are taught that the only time a fight is fair is when it's back to back. Evens up the odds. Too, taking care of business off of school grounds and all private like is more better. shrug

We have this family tradition, we do.....Anytime a "child" family member get's "picked on" on school grounds or off school grounds, again, using ksfbcoachs's lingo, we simply bide our time and get our pay back x3. The children organize the "pay back" all on their adults allowed.....and guess what??? This system most usually and always has stopped the "....getting picked on.....".

This topic is obscene. No unified school policy for this nonsense in a unified school district. "Kids will be kids" is the motto???

ksfbcoach indeed.......I HOPE that does stand for Kansas football underscores and highlights everything I remember and know about the stupidity of "teaching" kids "sports".

Don Whiteley 6 years, 6 months ago

Let''s not just shut this issue down to schools. Our children only look at adults and see what works for them. My wife was a school nurse and once worked for a principal so abusive that he'd scream at staff in the hallways, in front of students...the perfect example. He was reported to the school board, who did nothing; and the teacher reporting it ended up losing her job because he invented a lie that got her fired.

Four years ago, I worked for a senior executive so abusive, he'd not only scream at us and belittle us in front of our staff, he'd even throw things at us when he got mad. He was reported to Corporate HR, who did nothing except give him his own HR manager reporting to him. Companies not only condone this behavior, they admire and promote it. Most of the senior executives I've worked with have been tyrants who were promoted less for their knowlede and leadership than they were for their willingness to step on and abuse others. Corporate bullying is often seen as a sign of powerful people that companies want to promote.

Children? They only look at adults and see what it takes to get ahead. We teach them that bullying is a way to control people and make others see us as powerful. Bullying isn't just a school issue that we've all experienced to one degree or another, it's a societal issue that we all face in most aspects of our lives.

EE 6 years, 6 months ago

7 years ago my son was bullied at a local elementary school to the point he was afraid to go to school. The principal refused to take any action; we requested a class change and a school change, but the principal denied the requests and told us that our son needed psychological help to handle the situation. My wife accompanied our son to class and sat at the back of the classroom and after three days and the principal told her that she couldn't sit in the classroom anymore. We ended up pulling our son from the elementary school and enrolled him in a private school. We feared retaliation from the principal, so we also pulled our daughter, who is two years younger than our son, from the school and also enrolled her in the private school. We re-enrolled both kids in a local junior high (now middle school) when they were old enough to attend, and the bullying situation has been aggressively addressed.

ezbreezy 6 years, 6 months ago

Can we have cameras put in schools! It may help. In classrooms, bathrooms ect.. Not only for the kids but to protect the teachers from these bullies too. When I was in school I witnessed a petite female teacher punched in the back by a student. I was horrified for her. I really hope the school boards start taking this bullying/ hazing more seriously. What will it take, police in the schools handing out court dates?!

Jayhawk_4_Life 6 years, 6 months ago

cameras in the bathrooms? really? maybe have an adult stand in there during passing periods or have an adult check the bathrooms during class time, but cameras would be a little excessive.

Christine Anderson 6 years, 6 months ago

Excuse me, but have you ever been bullied? I do not know Mr. Theno. I do know that if he was a bully, or if he was bullied, both would be very wrong. There has to be zero tolerance for this crap. Pardon me, but I am 47 yrs. old and can still remember horrible things said to me in school. In that era, no one cared. You could tell a teacher and they didn't do jack. Being bullied can and does have a permanent effect on the person bullied. Wake up.

Btw, I also strongly believe it is a parent's job to not let their kids be the bully, and if they are, shut it down right fast and quick.

Alceste 6 years, 6 months ago

So.....the Judge in a Federal suit (and the jury....if there was one)....failed to catch/comprehend this "embelishment" you write about?

kernal 6 years, 6 months ago

First, this school district needs to have a standard anti-bullying policy that every school administrator needs to make sure is followed. Second, Yeoman2 is correct. It begins with the student's atmosphere at home and the parents/guardians. Seems to me the first step in the anti-bullying is a meeting with the parents. I guarantee you, at least 50% of the bullying cases occur because that's what the kids learn at home.

Too bad parents aren't required to take parenting classes.

Terry Jacobsen 6 years, 6 months ago

I whole heartedly agree with everyone who says we should not allow bullying in our schools. I also believe that as a parent, if you are ignored by a teacher or principal, you need to talk louder, more publicly and to higher up individuals. Don't stop defending, don't stop bringing the truth out into the light. Any teacher or administrator who refuses to address bullying is in the wrong profession and needs to be given the opportunity to find one that suits them better. Having said that, I will say that my child was accused of bullying because he and another friend expressed a different view from another child at the lunch table regarding which professional football team was better than another. The school social worker accused my son and his friend of exercising an imbalance of power and proceeded to call them bullies, and even put their name on a "bully" list that was posted in their classroom . The real bully here was the school social worker, who excercised an imbalance of power by berating these two boys over something that was clearly not bullying. So, I went to the school and I told her that in the future she was not allowed to speak with my child, unless I was present. We have not had any issues since. I encourage you to stand up for your kids, teach them what is right, inforce respectful values in them, don't think they are always right, sometimes they are not, but when they are, don't back down!

skinny 6 years, 6 months ago

It's part of growing up! Man up! Jeeezz!

begin60 6 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence is a hateful place where love is hate and hate is the going definition of love. You cannot even use the public space without being approached by aggressive strangers who offensively demand you stroke their egos by recognizing their incompetent and insulting efforts to "help". If this is not harassment I don't know what is, but inevitably the local hick authorities side with self-flattering, would-be "helpers" even though these yokels see it as their God-Given privilege to violate women physically--grabbing them and their belongings in an offensive, threatening way.

I even had a stinkingly unaware , unprofessional technician at LMH follow me into the bathroom in the name of being "helpful." Can't stand people who refuse to honor and respect decent boundaries. When thick backwoods people are treating you like a physical object all the while breaking their arms congratulating themselves on how helpful they are when you have twice their brains there is little common ground for any meaningful interaction. It's nothing but the worse sort of bullying and unwanted intrusion that ends up treating people unequally and making them feel unsafe for discriminatory reasons.

MarcoPogo 6 years, 6 months ago

I'm going to put your theory to the test - if no "aggressive strangers" show up to dig my car out of the snow, I'm calling BS.

curmudgeon 6 years, 6 months ago

Kids have been mean to each other forever but it's a huge deal now. My mother quit school because she was bullied but there wasn't a front page article about it, in fact, there wasn't an article at all. Fact is, she got her GED and moved on. I think kids now just can't handle anything anymore and have to turn everything into a media circus. It's ridiculous, suck it up and learn to get a tough skin because without it you're not going to make it in the real world.

George_Braziller 6 years, 6 months ago

I was tormented and bullied by a guy in the class ahead of me from grade school all the way through high school. It finally stopped when he graduated and was no longer around.

I wasn't the only one he bullied, I was just for some reason the focus of his "attention."

The really scary part is that after he got his degree in education he became a high school principal and later a school district superintendent.

pea 6 years, 6 months ago

"after a classmate started a rumor related to finding him masturbating in a bathroom" - Wow, what an embarrassing inclusion to this story. Way to help a kid out.

Christine Anderson 6 years, 6 months ago

To all those who think being bullied is a "normal" part of growing up, you make me sick. I graduated high school in 1982. Recently, my former classmates have begun to plan our 30th yr reunion. There is one friend in particular who literally helped me keep my sanity and believe in myself, whom I would love to see. But guess what? He is not coming, because the memories of high school still toment him. In a recent phone conversation with him, I learned for the very first time what he went through. He was tomented and called names by a couple of our male classmates who would get others to join in. This person is a loving, talented, good person. Always was, But after all these years, he still feels like there was the "good" part of high school, and then there was the "hell". Our principal and most of the teachers looked the other way. It took our very petite but mighty choral director to pull the bully and my friend into her office and order the bully to stop it.

ferrislives 6 years, 6 months ago

And this is why bullying has continued for so many years. Play pin the tail on the donkey much?

George_Braziller 6 years, 6 months ago

I do blame the administrators and teachers for my school bully. He was well known to be one but none of them ever did anything about it. He was the jock so everyone looked the other way.

His classmates couldn't even stand him because he was so verbally obnoxious and abusive. If he wasn't insulting you he was pounding on you or getting some of his minions to do it.

At my 20 year high school reunion people were still talking about what an a-hole he was.

MichelleSmith 6 years, 6 months ago

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