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Paynesville Press - December 12, 2001

Bullying is focus of survey

By Linda Stelling and Michael Jacobson

Bully survey A recent survey by the Paynesville Human Rights Commission indicated that bullying in the elementary and middle schools exists but at levels that are far from alarming.

The human rights commission had heard stories of bullying in the schools and decided to do a survey to see how serious the issue was. Before parent-teacher conferences in November, the commission distributed surveys to students in kindergarten through eighth grade (776 in all). Parents were asked to return the survey when they attended conferences. Just over 35 percent (277 surveys) were returned.

Parents were asked to complete the survey from their child's perspective. The only question that got a high response from parents asked whether their child had been teased or called names. In all, 79 parents - over a quarter of the responses - indicated that their child had been teased and that it bothered them emotionally. (See shaded chart.)

The highest rates of response were in the second and third grades. Of 26 second grade parents, half indicated that their child had been teased. Nearly half of the 18 third grade parents also said their child had been teased.

None of the other questions - which dealt with harassment, fear of threats and bullying, seeing another student with a weapon, getting in fights, and stealing - got even a ten percent response. The second highest response was if their child had ever been in a physical fight with someone in their own grade, which got a "yes" response from nearly nine percent of the parents.

The recent survey is not the only survey that has been done in the local school system about bullying. About three years ago, Bob Cushman, a former school counselor, was asked to do a survey on safety issues in the middle and high schools. At that time, 50 percent of the middle school students said they had seen other students who had been teased.

The difference may be explained by a survey conducted by the Department of Children, Family, and Learning during the Minnesota State Fair this year. During a bullying awareness campaign, their survey found that 88 percent of teachers felt there was a problem with bullying, while only 61 percent of the students thought it was, and only 54 percent of the parents. This seems to suggest that parents are the least likely of these three groups to report bullying.

The recent surveys also included a comment section. The human rights commission will be sharing points of concern with school administration and staff. A comment about teasing of a sexual nature from the parent of a kindergarten student surprised several members of the commission.

The human rights commission found that several of their suggestions for the school - awareness programs and peer mediation - are already being used by the district.

Each year the middle school has the Climb Theatre and other groups, which show examples of harassment, and teach that teasing is bad and has no place in the school. Other programs have dealt with respect and responsibility, treating others like you want to be treated, said middle school principal Deb Gillman.

The middle school also has peer mediation, where students help to work out problems. This year, peer mediation has a new advisor and is still getting started.

"We try to reiterate that bullying and teasing will not be tolerated," said elementary principal Todd Burlingame. Teachers and administration like to address the problems before they get out of hand.

Many parents felt the greatest needs for more supervision was outside the classroom: in the lunchroom, on the playground, and on school buses. "It would be nice to have more people on the playground or adults ride on the buses," agreed Burlingame.

Both Burlingame and Gillman have procedures they follow when an incident occurs. Burlingame finds having the student call and explain the reason for being in the principal's office is usually very effective. Gilman has a conference with the students involved and investigates incidents.

While bullying will never be eliminated, constant effort needs to be made to minimize it, the school administrators and commission members agreed. "Problems need to be addressed before things get out of hand," said Burlingame.

With that in mind, the human rights commission will be sponsoring a lyceum with Ronald McDonald in January to keep up the anti-bullying efforts. This lyceum will aim at showing kids that the best way to solve disagreements is to focus on the problem and not resort to harassment or fighting.

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