Bullying that surfaced in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. schools after Donald Trump was elected president has diminished, but school corporation leaders still have concerns about what may not be reported in the aftermath.
BCSC Superintendent Jim Roberts, speaking at Tuesday’s Community Area Sustained Dialogue session, said there are six and a half times more students than staff. And with that ratio comes the concern that bullying may be continuing without teachers or administrators knowing about it.
About 30 people attended the Roberts talk at the Doug Otto United Way Center in Columbus, part of an ongoing series to identify obstacles and create opportunities to help economically-challenged citizens achieve self-sufficiency.
During the three days after the Nov. 8 election, 11 election-related incidents were reported. The incidents by 16 alleged perpetrators involved 14 alleged victims across the district, Roberts said.
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Most involved harassment and intimidation directed at Hispanic students, BCSC student assistance coordinator Larry Perkinson said in November.
Describing many of these post-election encounters as displays of raw emotions shaped by family ideology or other outside influences, the superintendent said the corporation was caught off guard by the impact of the election on students.
But by coincidence, the BCSC Diversity Committee, led by secondary education director Bill Jensen, met for its regular meeting the morning after the election, Roberts said.
“At that meeting, we were already hearing about Hispanic students crying because they thought they might not be able to stay within our community,” the superintendent said.
That prompted committee members to drop their planned agenda and take immediate action toward alleviating such concerns, Roberts said.
Incidents of bullying often go unreported when a victimized student hasn’t established a trusting relationship with an adult at school, Roberts said.
“Most of the time, we don’t know a kid isn’t feeling safe unless someone lets us know it,” Roberts said. “We need to know … not only to address it, but to also learn from it.”
Roberts said the school system will not tolerate actions that demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for people’s differences.
BCSC administrators issued an expectation to students about their behavior, after which the number of reported incidents abruptly fell off, he said.
That expectation is still being taught through the existing “Positive Behavior Instructional Support” program, which focuses on how students can be successful through their interactions with peers and adults with positive behaviors.
A similar message is also being communicated through the “Leading, Encouraging, Assisting Peers” program, which allows at-risk middle school students to be mentored by high school juniors and seniors.
Roberts said the most recent incident reported was on Nov. 14, when a student was disciplined for wearing a shirt displaying a Confederate flag, Roberts said.
Indiana law specifically defines bullying as intentional, unwanted and repeated acts or gestures with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate or harm a person. Bullying can be verbal, written or physical, according to state law.
Those legal definitions are used on a case-by-case basis to determine appropriate action when incidents initially described as bullying are reported, Roberts said.
Instead of punishment, counseling for most alleged perpetrators, as well as alleged victims, is given.
“We are an educational institution,” Roberts told the group. “Removing a child from school isn’t necessarily going to lead to better understanding and better citizens.”
Counseling, as well as current and evolving policies, focus on promoting cultural responsiveness in an effort to create a culture that limits opportunities for bad behavior, Roberts said.
Nevertheless, there were also corrective measures, he said.
BCSC was also taken by surprise after national media outlets sought to focus on the school corporation because Columbus hometown of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
The school corporation placed a statement on its social media page and the corporation’s website that said the school corporation embodied fairness, respect and trust for all, Roberts said.
When children reveal that they are being bullied or harassed at school to family members, the impulse of many parents is to take the matter immediately to a high-ranking administrator — perhaps several hours or days after the incident.
However, that approach may not result in the most effective response, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts said.
Instead, parents are asked to encourage their children to immediately report any situation regarding bullying or harassment to whatever adult is closest to the issue.
The following is contained in informational pamphlets on bullying distributed by the school district:
- An observed or alleged incident should be reported promptly and within the same day to school administrators or their designee.
- Once a referral or anonymous report has been received, an investigation will be initiated within one school day.
- If determined to be a bullying incident, the parents of both the targeted student and the bully will be notified in an expedited matter.
- If the nature of the incident is an illegal act, the incident will be reported to local law enforcement.
While not all forms of aggressive behavior legally qualify, there are four types of bullying: Physical, verbal, social/relational and electronic or written communication.
The following are recognized by the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. as forms of cyber-bullying.
- Mean text messages or emails.
- Rumors sent by email on posted on social networking sites.
- Embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.
If it is determined that such communications made off-campus are being disruptive to the school environment, administrators reserve the right to take corrective measures.