Natrona School District Hears Suggestions To Deal With Bullying
Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Natrona County School District trustee Clark Jensen faced a dilemma -- rare, but a dilemma nonetheless -- about a bullying incident involving his son at a junior high school some years ago.
His son saw a friend being physically bullied by another student, didn't see an adult around, intervened physically and got in trouble, Jensen told other trustees and a group of school officials at a school district board work session Monday.
"I struggled with knowing what to tell my son about that situation," he said. "I felt like his physicality was very different from the kid who was picking on his friend, and so I didn't know how to deal with how to instruct my own son. My instruction to him was, 'you did the right thing, even if you got in trouble.'"
"So help me," Jensen said.
He's not alone.
The district has been grappling with bullying and harassment for years, including the report of a wrestling team member being waterboarded at Kelly Walsh High School in January.
Monday, the trustees invited principals, counselors and other officials to hear their stories and suggestions, trustee Dana Howie said.
"So what tonight was about was getting a feel for what was actually happening in the district as far as taking care of bullying, what the procedures are in the schools," Howie said. "And our second question was, 'what can we do to help the schools to alleviate the bullying."
Jensen himself needed some alleviation of the dilemma he faced years ago, he said.
Cottonwood Elementary principal Brian Doner acknowledged Jensen's son made a judgment call, but it was wrong, he said. "He broke a rule."
If a law enforcement officer had arrived at the time of the physical altercation, Doner said Jensen's son would have been found just as guilty as the perpetrator.
His son and friend could have better dealt with the bully by walking away, laughing off the confrontation, or finding an adult.
Tom Ernst, the district's director of student support services, said he found it hard to believe that an adult was not readily available.
Ernst also cautioned against students putting themselves in harm's way and to not act as saviors in such situations.
The district has a once-a-year program for staff and faculty about bullying, but those programs should be offered quarterly or monthly, he said.
A couple of the school officials praised the computer and phone application tip line -- Safe2Tell Wyoming -- for people to confidentially report potentially harmful and violent behaviors including bullying and those who may be considering suicide.
The tip line for the most part has enabled students who don't feel like they may have a voice, they said.
Steve Ellbogen, principal of Dean Morgan Middle School, said he sees more harassment than bullying. Dean Morgan has developed a program to identify different levels of harassment including racism and sexting -- and the students are made very aware of the consequences, he said.
Anna Lavin, principal of the now-closed Mountain View Elementary School, said her staff and faculty promoted parental involvement.
Lavin and Doner said they emphasize the importance of helping students, especially from at-risk backgrounds, to develop social and emotional skills.
Several school officials said they've seen a decrease in bullying, and have learned to distinguish the differences among bullying, harassment, and students having conflicts.
Most of these issues about bullying -- continuous unwanted harassing behavior -- have been around for a long time.
But the advent of technology has aggravated conflicts and bullying to levels unheard of a dozen years ago.
Trustee Toni Billings said school officials hear about problems that start with cyberbullying on a Saturday as students can post something on social media to dozens of their friends and have those disputes erupt Monday afternoon.
At the end of the work session, school board Chairwoman Rita Walsh said the district will further develop its policies to have consistent guidelines and definitions about harassment and bullying, and more frequent training programs.