PIQUA — Though the end of the school year is here, bullying is a topic that schools are always discussing as to how and what they can do better to address this issue for kids.
The conversation on bullying also reignited on the national level earlier this month after an 8-year-old Cincinnati boy committed suicide two days after allegedly being kicked and struck by his classmates to the point of unconsciousness.
“This is a national discussion,” Piqua City Schools Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said. “It can’t be a passive approach.”
Not every instance of harassment qualifies as bullying, particularly if it is a behavioral issue that only pops up once since bullying is a pervasive form of abuse. Piqua schools defines bullying as, “Any intentional, persistent, and repetitive written, verbal, graphic, electronically transmitted, or physical act that a student or group of students exhibits toward another student and the behavior both: a) causes mental or physical harm to the other student; AND b) is sufficiently severe that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the victim.”
Assistant Superintendent Tony Lyons said the safety of their students is Piqua schools’ number one priority, noting their first response to allegations of bullying is making sure that students are safe.
According to the Piqua Board of Education’s policy on bullying, students who experience what they believe to be bullying are encouraged to report it to the building principal, the assistant principal, or the superintendent, which the student’s parent or guardian can also do. The policy also states that “every staff member is required … to report any situation that they believe to be aggressive behavior directed toward a student.” Building principals are also required to write a report on the investigation of the bullying complaint.
Thompson explained that PCS tries to have a proactive approach to bullying, such as through their Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) system. The PBIS system is adapted to each grade level from K-12, encouraging students to be respectful, responsible, and kind to one another. PCS also has counseling available at each building from Samaritan Behavioral Health.
Technology has also added new elements to the conversation on bullying, as it can act as both a tool to combat bullying and as another platform on which bullying can occur.
A link to report bullying, harassment, or intimidation online is found on each website for Piqua schools. Links to those homepages can be found on Piqua.org. The report can be made anonymously, although Thompson and Lyons encourage those making reports to at least include a phone number so they can follow up with the person making the report to see if the situation has improved after the issue at the school has been addressed.
“When we get those reports, we take them very seriously,” Thompson said.
Once these reports are submitted online, they are sent to the building principal at which the bullying or harassment was reported, as well as to Thompson and Lyons. Thompson explained that they give some time for the principal to address the issue before following up about how the problem is being addressed. These reports also create a paper trail documenting instances of bullying.
As for the negative side of technology, social media can also become a place where kids can be harassed. When that happens, the schools encourage kids to refrain from getting on social media. “We encourage the parents and kids to stay off and deal with the situation,” Lyons said.
Lyons also noted that this can even rise to the level of criminal telecommunications harassment if the online harassment escalates that far.
With the new role of social media in the people’s every day lives, Thompson said that it was important for parents to be aware of how social media works and how online harassment can occur. Earlier this year, PCS was able to partner with the Piqua Christian Life Center, which held a seminar on “Parenting in the Age of Social Media.” The seminar taught parents about various forms of social media and ways they can deal with online harassment.
“It was a great kind of proactive piece,” Thompson said.
It was eye-opener for some parents, as Thompson noted that the parents were able to learn about “some things they just weren’t aware of.”
For extreme cases of bullying in Piqua schools, they also have a crisis response team made up of Thompson and Lyons along with representatives from other organizations in the community, including the Piqua Police Department, the Piqua Fire Department, guidance counselors, a Samaritan Behavioral Health therapist, and members of the juvenile court division.
“Obviously, if we have a situation that is violent, we’re going to get the police involved,” Lyons said. “If we have a situation where it might appear like it’s violent or if it’s a threat of violence, then we’re going to bring that team together and really evaluate what the impact’s going to be on the school itself and then the district … How much of an impact is it going to have on our kids? Is there a safety issue?”
Thompson added that the team will also evaluate if the situation poses a high or low risk to students and the school, which can even result in the police conducting their own investigation.
“If it were then to come to like an expulsion hearing, that’s very valuable information for me to have,” Thompson said. “I have the severity of it. I know the extent to which I need to go, and then sometimes we will put measures in place if a student is suspended or expelled. There has to be a transition plan back into the school.”
Thompson said that could involve the student receiving counseling or seeing a medical professional before being readmitted into the schools.
They also explained that it is a process to figure out the best way to deal with the situation, whether they use only discipline or a combination of responses that could also involve counseling. The school administration is not always able to divulge their response to a bullying situation, even to the victim or parent of the victim, if confidentiality issues are in play. PCS reports on the number of bullying reports that are filed with the schools, though, twice a year — once at the December board of education meeting, then again at the June board meeting after the school year is over.
Overall, Thompson said bullying is a discussion that all schools are having. While not every school may have the perfect, most effective response to bullying, Thompson said Piqua schools are committed to taking a proactive approach to bullying.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336