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September 18, 2014

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CCSD’s anti-bullying measures take on heightened importance in aftermath of Sparks shooting

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Scott Sonner / AP

Washoe County School Board President Barbara Clark walks Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, past a makeshift memorial in front of Sparks Middle School, where math teacher Michael Landsberry was killed and two students wounded before a 12-year-old gunman killed himself.

Sparks Middle School Shooting

Jeannette Vasquez, 14, and Carlos Lara, 13, were among hundreds of students and residents who attended a candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, in honor of slain teacher Michael Landsberry and two 12-year-old students who were injured after a fellow student open fire at the school on Monday, before turning the gun on himself.  Launch slideshow »

In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Sparks, Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky is urging parents and community members to help identify students who are going through “difficult periods,” including bullying.

In a letter sent home to parents Tuesday and in a recorded phone call Wednesday, Skorkowsky called the Sparks Middle School shooting Monday “an unfathomable loss” and reassured Clark County parents their children’s schools are prepared for crisis situations.

“I hear and understand the community’s concerns about the safety of our children,” Skorkowsky said. “I want to assure you that our highest priority is protecting our students and employees.”

Clark County’s school threat, evaluation and crisis response department works with all 357 schools to devise a crisis plan in case of emergencies. The plans are codified into a red booklet, placed in every principal’s office, and taught to staff in safety trainings throughout the year.

There are evacuation, lockdown and shelter-in-place drills for myriad situations, from fires and earthquakes to an unwanted intruder in the building. However, these are traditionally reactive actions to address school threats.

The School District is also focusing on proactive ways to prevent school threats from materializing. One of its chief methods is to identify and counsel students in need of help.

“It’s incumbent on our community to work together to identify students who are going through difficult periods, whether it be from bullying, circumstances at home or even a painful breakup,” Skorkowsky said. “If you see a potential problem, please notify your school.”

Every school in the district has a safety team of principals, administrators and counselors. The team is tasked with ensuring a welcoming and safe environment for all its students.

Throughout the year, but especially during the anti-bullying month of October, schools teach students about bullying and ways to prevent it. That training has become more important in light of the Sparks Middle School shooting, which students say may have precipitated from a case of bullying.

“People used to believe bullying was a rite of passage, but we’re understanding now that it’s not a rite of passage, but a form of emotional and physical abuse,” said Brandon Moeller, the district’s assistant director of equity and diversity education. “If an adult were to treat someone else like a (school) bully, they can be arrested for battery or assault. We need to change our view on that. Bullying in school is just as hurtful and painful.”

Students are taught the definition of bullying and its different forms, such as cyberbullying. Bullying is repetitive and punitive, and it exploits a power imbalance between two parties.

Bullying and cyberbullying have legal consequences. A first-time offender and his or her parents may receive court-mandated counseling. A second or third offense could lead to a misdemeanor charge for the bully.

A number of community organizations, such as Flip the Script, the Josh Stevens Foundation and Operation Respect, are working with the School District on anti-bullying initiatives.

The School District also has a form on its website where students can anonymously report cases of bullying directly to school administrators. School principals must address bullying cases immediately and resolve the matter within 10 days.

Instead of being bystanders, Clark County students are taught to become “upstanders,” standing up to bullies and saying bullying isn’t right.

“The more kids that stand up, bullying will dissipate,” Moeller said. “We want to get students to become more comfortable with doing that and reporting it to adults.”

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