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Archive for Sunday, February 23, 2014

How safe is your school: Bullying and school violence in Lawrence

February 23, 2014

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  • Kristie Dennham was furious when her eighth-grade son came home last month with injuries from being beaten up at school. It was not the first time.

    She describes her son “Bobby” (not his real name) as academically gifted, but smaller than most of his peers, making him an easy target for some of the bigger kids.

    Since third grade, he has been repeatedly assaulted and tormented by a handful of other students — sometimes in school, sometimes at the bus stop, other times in the neighborhood.

    This time, he was attacked in the gymnasium of West Middle School, where students had gathered before first period, in full view of other students.

    “I think the biggest thing over all these years has been the emotional (impact),” she said. “You kind of start to see the light in your child's eyes go away, and you start to see them first of all not want to go to school, not want to go to social events.”

    By now, though, Bobby had learned what to do in such events. When the bell rang, he went down the hall and, as he'd been instructed, ducked into the office to report the incident to the principal.

    But, according to Dennham, neither the principal nor assistant principal were available, and Bobby was told to return to class. Later in the day, she said, he tried again, and again was turned away.

    It was only after he returned home and Dennham learned what had happened that she called police and reported the assault.

    Classic case of bullying

    By the numbers

    Nearly all Lawrence schools have made calls to the police, some more than others. Take a look at the interactive chart below to see how many calls schools have made and the reports that came from the calls.

    Bobby's experience in school fits the U.S. Department of Education's standard definition of bullying: “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

    The power imbalance can involve the students' physical strength, as in Bobby's case. But it can also involve access to embarrassing information, or a student's relative popularity. Bullying can involve physical abuse, but it can also involve harassment, teasing or inappropriate sexual comments. And in the digital age, it can also occur on social media, in the form of “cyber-bullying.”

    According to the federal agency's website stopbullying.gov, victims of bullying often experience depression and anxiety, other health problems and decreased academic performance. And in rare cases they may try to retaliate through extremely violent means.

    “In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied,” the department reports.

    Since 2012, the state of Kansas has required all schools to adopt policies to address bullying and to report annually to the Kansas State Department of Education about all reported cases of bullying and how they were handled.

    In the 2012-2013 academic year, the Lawrence school district reported 136 instances of bullying to the state, resulting in 37 in-school or out-of-school suspensions.

    So far this year, district officials say they have received 42 reports of bullying, resulting in 19 suspensions. Final numbers will be reported to the state at the end of the school year.

    Other criminal activity

    Bullying is only one form of aggressive criminal behavior that occurs in schools.

    According to Lawrence police reports, obtained through a Kansas Open Records Act request, nearly every school in the district has called police multiple times over the past year to respond to incidents ranging from theft and drug possession to criminal assault and battery.

    At West Middle School, there were 65 calls for service to police between Jan. 1, 2013, and Feb. 7, 2014. Those resulted in at least 10 reports being filed, including three for battery, two for theft and one for arson.

    But by a wide margin, the busiest middle school in Lawrence for police reports was Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, which called police 312 times during that period, an average of more than once a day for each day school was in session.

    The most active school overall was Lawrence High School, with 496 calls to police over the 13-month period examined. Pinckney School was the only building in the district that made no calls for police assistance during that time.

    Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said it's difficult to draw conclusions from those numbers.

    "There’s no standardized reporting mechanism across the district for when to involve police," Doll said in an email. "Our school administrators use their best judgment, and frankly, I support them erring on the side of caution and calling police about a concern that may turn out to be nothing."

    Responding to bullying and violence

    Under school district policy, students and parents are encouraged to report bullying, either informally or through a written complaint form that is available in the office of each building.

    School officials are generally barred from commenting about personal matters involving individual students. But district officials did discuss some of the policies and programs they've initiated to deal with school climate issues.

    Liberty Memorial principal Jeff Harkin said his staff also began taking proactive measures this year to discipline problems and improve the school climate.

    “Over the summer, we looked at the discipline data and we were seeing we had too many kids spending time outside the classroom, either in in-school suspension or a former placed called the time-out room,” Harkin said.

    So this year, Liberty Memorial began a program called STOMP – Self-control; Optimistic, Motivated, Prepared – which clearly spells out expectations for student behavior and offers positive rewards, in the form of STOMP Money, that students can use to buy privileges, or even school supplies.

    So far this year, he said, office referrals are down 70 percent, and the suspension rate has been cut in half.

    “I'm proud of the whole building,” Harkin said. “We're shocked by how well kids took to this and how well the staff has implemented it.”

    At West Middle School, principal Myron Melton said his staff has also taken a proactive approach to prevent bullying, using the first-period advising classes to lead discussions about what bullying is and how all students, including bystanders, can help prevent it.

    “I really feel like the important piece is the students have to feel connected to the school, like they're part of the community, and there are adults in the building they can confide in,” Melton said. “We do a lot of training in how to go about doing that.”

    Comments

    Paul Silkiner 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    After reading the comments following the article, it becomes extremely clear that the children learn to bully! Please follow the "Rule"........THE RULE: DO NO HARM! If you do harm, please remember that harmful people will, in the end, always do more harm to themselves than others could do to them..............given enough time! Children are mimics!

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    Paul Silkiner 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    After reading the above comments it becomes extremely clear how some of the children learn to bully!

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    Kristie Denham 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    Robin has retracted her statement that my son was the one involved in the "months of rude language in online gaming with her son". She "made a mistake" in thinking that it was my son who she was overhearing. I reminded her that she shouldn't be commenting on things she knows nothing about, especially in a public forum. And I agree that she is WAY out of line in her comments, but she doesn't seem to think so. The problem is that unfortunately there are many people out there who think like her. That children like my son are doing something to deserve the bullying. It's sad and pathetic. Again, thanks for all the support. We will continue pursuing every legal way possible to keep my son, and all children, safe while they are at school.

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    Addie Line 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    Please do not try to swing this issue to me when I was not the one suggesting the child in this article was getting what he deserved. I can clarify, to the above "loaded" statement. When saying "anyway possible" , it was in regards to this child needing to verbally defend himself or be on the emotional defense with others. Specifically the situation in which you alleged the child in this article called you a lesbian over a video game. I thought my reference to his "smart tongue" as you called it, indicated this. My apologies for the confusion. Speaking of confusion, I'm confused as to how being called a lesbian is considered an insult but that is neither here nor there. I find it ridiculous that I need to say this, but I obviously do not support a child using any form of violence to extract revenge on someone as you are suggesting I said.

    "Maybe this young man has over used his rude comments about other peoples moms and needed an attitude adjustment... I get that the school grounds are the wrong place to work it out. But where and when is the right place to shut down mouthy boys... Sometimes kind words don't work and the "old school" tactics NEED to come to play... I believe that more facts need to come to light before the 'aka' victim gets a free pass in this incident..."

    ^^This is a direct quote from your original comment. I do believe that "needed an attitude adjustment" "...where and when is the right place to shut down mouthy boys" and "...the "old school" tactics NEED to come to play" all indicate that your opinion is that this boy was just getting what he deserved. (Based on your alleged encounter with him calling you a lesbian) I do not appear to be the only one who got this from your comment, based on other comments. This is terribly sad and why I felt the need to indicate I do not condone children being assaulted, regardless of what they may say to upset someone. As I said in my original comment, that's not how the real world works.

    The school definitely bears the brunt of the responsibility to address the bullying issue as they are responsible for keeping our children safe (or not, in this scenario) when we are not supervising them. Better interventions need to be in place, in my opinion.

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    Robin Frankenfeld-Kofford 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    I would like to apologize again to any one I offended or upset with my comments..But I will not apologize for my opinion. My first comment was written out of emotion and did not come out they way I intended. Sadly to say my son had informed us of a different incident involving the young man I was referring to. Never once though did I say that the young man in the article deserved repeated attacks. I meant though that the perpetual bullies might learn a lesson by "old school" tactics. That's how it was handled in the old days and it seemed to be settled after that.

    The school system is not the 100% to cure bullying. Obviously it's not working since this has been going on for 6 years. I don't know if there really is a cure. I believe though the school system should set up a line of communication to all the families involved especially if it occurs at school. And as severe as this situation sounds it seems there should be some charges filed against these "thugs" and the justice system is involved.

    I believe parents holding their child accountable is the first course of action. That's why I feel communication between parents involved is a must. As a parent you have the right to protect and defend your child. And the right to confront the bullies parents. Hopefully in the severity of this situation you have taken that course of action. You had no problem telling me to kindly "SHUT UP". With this being a repeated situation it seems it is much bigger than the school system to handle... This seems more as a flaw in the justice system... Why have they not set up some type of anger management program for these repeat bully offenders. Exiling them from school for a few days is not the answer.. They need help if they refuse to change so they don't continue the wrong path. Like I said there is no 100% cure to bullying but sometimes a little dose of their own medicine might go along way.. That is the "old school" tactics I was referring to as well. But not to goes as far as "anyway possible" like Addie Line said. Her comment "I wouldn't blame him in the least for trying to stand up for himself in "any way possible' sounds threatening as well as "needing and attitude adjustment", if not worse. That was a very LOADED statement by Addie Line (no pun intended). It goes to show we all have our opinion on this matter and our words can be taken out of perspective and misunderstood. I'm sure she meant no intention of alluding to what we all fear now.

    I do apologize to the family for confusing their son's situation with another incident that happened at West. I can understand them wanting to keep their son's name anonymous, but he should not feel ashamed or hide from this.. Good Luck to the family and their crusade to change this messed up system.. There does need to be a change! But it's not up to the school system to solve or take sole responsibility!

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    Addie Line 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    Kristie, I'm so sorry to hear even more about all that your son has gone through. It makes me feel sick. I am glad that he has a supportive and loving mother to guide him through these horrible incidents. Please do not think the view of one commenter is the view of most. I think most people recognize that it's never right for a child to be assaulted, and they do deserve to feel safe at school. As my original comment alluded to, even if your son has developed a smart tongue (although what teen hasn't?) I wouldn't blame him in the least for trying to stand up for himself in any way possible. Here's to hoping some big changes are made and children don't have to suffer like this.

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    Kristie Denham 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    My son is the child featured in this article. I would like to thank everyone for their supportive comments. I have this to say to Robin Fankenfeld-Kofford: SHAME ON YOU for trying to twist this situation into my son deserving these attacks!!! Let me go into a few more details that the article didn't mention.... This has been going on since 3rd grade. He has been battered and assaulted by 4 boys for 6 years. The assaults (on school property) have been over a dozen incidents and have included being tackled, choked, punched in the face multiple times, having dirt smeared in his eyes, having his head slammed into a urinal requiring staples, having his lip split open from a punch requiring another ER visit, having his knees bloodied from being pushed to the ground, and he now has permanent scars on his cheekbone from punched and on his head he has a bald spot from the staples. These are the physical wounds. He is in therapy for the emotional ones. He dresses stylishly and wears his hair in fresh styles and cuts (I am a hairstylist) and has been taunted repeatedly for this, being called a faggot and gay. Regarding his online video gaming, first of all he does not play online with any of his school classmates, his gaming community consists of other gifted students and they all lives in other states. So maybe you should know what you are talking about before you make accusations. Has he gotten in trouble for using inappropriate language here and there? Absolutely! It's a problem with all 14 year old boys according to my fellow parents. So to assume that your child is perfect and immune from the bad language problem is naive. However, as I stated above, it's really awful and sad that you think my son has deserved the repeated violent attacks over the years. You know NOTHING of the pain and struggle this has been for our family. So kindly, SHUT UP! I went to the media after feeling that the schools and district have failed to protects a child. These bullies/criminals continue to be allowed to attend school. They get a slap on the wrist in the form of a suspension and then they are right back at school again. When my son reports the incidents and the bullies get punished then many times they retaliate by coming after him again. The system needs to change. If these kids violently hurt our children they should be excused to JDC to attend classes with armed guards present. My child does not deserve to be a punching bag for these criminals. He is brilliant, talented and awesome. He competes in math, science and engineering competitions outside of school. He also is a loving and caring big brother to his younger siblings. He had a right to be safe while attending school.

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    Clark Coan 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    I notice that Central has more reported instances of bullying than any other middle school by far. I was bullied there several times. There is the Blue Code of Silence where kids don't squeal on other kids, so the actually number is much higher.

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    Mark Jakubauskas 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    It never fails to astonish me how adults brush off physical assaults on children at school by peers, that they'd never tolerate at their own workplace. Why are bullies not arrested for assault ? Are the bullied justified in taking measures to protect themselves when teachers, principals, and other won't accord them the same protection and expectation of personal safety that adults expect every day ?

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    EJ Mulligan 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    On the police data page that is linked to, I count 13 elementary schools -- aren't there 15 elementary schools? Was data not available, or did the others not have any calls to police?

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    Addie Line 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    Robin, so, you're blaming a victim of physical violence for his injuries because he's said rude things before? Is it at all possible that the child developed this "filthy mouth" (as you call it) as a defense mechanism because he was mercilessly picked on for years as this article describes? Children need to learn that just because someone angers you with their words doesn't mean you can physically assault them. Should I run a car off a road if they flip me off while driving? Smack my husband because he's said something I feel is insensitive? That's not how the real world works. People say ridiculous and inappropriate things all the time and that's no reason to "shut down mouthy" kids. Kids need to do as your son did, say their piece and move on.

    Unfortunately bullying remains a problem at our daughters' school because it's seemingly impossible to keep totally in check. We hear about kids saying horrible things often. We just teach our daughters how to handle these situations with class, and try to encourage them not to take these words to heart.

    Another problem is the internet--kids can say devestatingly horrible things about other children behind a computer screen, far from the victim and their response/pain.

    Children need healthy and kind behaviors modeled for them at home, with parents who do not tolerate their children making others feel bad about themselves.

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    Robin Frankenfeld-Kofford 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    I have to say my child informed us of this incident... (which he did not witness) And I believe it is the same young man that my son plays on line video games with... And a few months ago I over heard (as I was doing laundry) the young man say "your mom is a lesbian " over my sons gaming system.. My son replied NO she is not...(and which I am not) I chuckled at the innocence of the words of 13 year old boys, and left it at that.!!! I was proud my son spoke loud and clear and then went on to play the game. My son perused no violence and just accepted people are mean and cruel with their words... He still plays and accepts this young man as a friend, even though he has a rude mouth on him.... Maybe this young man has over used his rude comments about other peoples moms and needed an attitude adjustment... I get that the school grounds are the wrong place to work it out. But where and when is the right place to shut down mouthy boys... Sometimes kind words don't work and the "old school" tactics NEED to come to play... I believe that more facts need to come to light before the 'aka' victim gets a free pass in this incident... There is always two sides to the story... I have been listening to this young man's filthy mouth for months and I have never once told my son "oh he is bullying you..oh poor baby".. They all need to work it out on their own!!! It's called LIFE!! We need to teach our kids TOLERANCE instead of WEAKNESS.. Sorry to all the parents or other people that do not agree with my statement. My intention is not to make any one upset but to bring a different light to the situation!!

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    Nikki May 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    If you will notice it's an acronym. It doesn't use the T, but SOMP doesn't spell anything.

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    Leslie Swearingen 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    When I see the word Stomp I think of the move Stomp the Yard which is about free style street dancing and a college student who is bullied and almost gives up. Maybe this is what they were thinking, but I have my doubts as to how many students at Central even know about this movie. Maybe they will tell us why they chose this word.

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    Arnie Bunkers 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    yeah, the word "Stomp" doesn't exactly evoke kind and gentle thoughts!

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    Mropus Wan 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    "At West Middle School, there were 65 calls for service to police between Jan. 1, 2013, and Feb. 7, 2014. Those resulted in at least 10 reports being filed, including three for battery, two for theft and one for arson.

    But by a wide margin, the busiest middle school in Lawrence for police reports was Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, which called police 312 times during that period, an average of more than once a day for each day school was in session.

    The most active school overall was Lawrence High School, with 496 calls to police over the 13-month period examined."

    These numbers are nothing shy of alarming. I grew up in another school district in a larger city that had significantly higher rates of violence than Lawrence, and I can't ever recall seeing the police at my schools anywhere close to these numbers (I also had a relative work in the same school and they are flabbergasted at these Lawrence numbers as well).

    This school district is continually chalked up as a great place to raise our kids and attend these schools. I have no doubt that there are some wonderful and exceptional teachers and administrators here in our public schools, but that does not excuse these police call numbers above.

    And what PTA mom came up with that absurd "STOMP" program? Is this really the best we can do? Good grief.

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