Monday, Nov. 7, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Watch on KSNV
Watch reporter Marie Mortera's reports on bullying during the 4 and 6 p.m. newscasts today on KSNV Channel 3.
Metro Police officer Richard Burris is sparing no sympathy for the seventh-graders packed inside a Bailey Middle School classroom.
Days earlier, Burris had inconspicuously watched afternoon dismissal at the school. And he wasn’t happy with what he saw: Kicking. Backpack-snatching. Paperwork-smacking.
The scene is repeated daily at valley schools. Bullies prey on victims during the day, and it continues at night through technology.
“It has gotten to the point where kids are afraid to walk and get on the school bus and can’t focus on school,” Burris tells the seventh-graders.
The officer’s presence is part of School District initiative to address the issue following several high-profile suicides related to bullying recently.
“Bullying happens to everybody, but it’s more serious now,” said Sgt. Mark Sharp of Metro’s Youth Education Services division. “We have a lot of people taking lives because of the fact that they feel trapped.”
Superintendent Dwight Jones has made anti-bullying initiatives a top priority — spearheading the local launch of Operation Respect, a national program to foster a ridicule-free climate for students. The effort is starting at 10 Clark County schools; success will trigger an expanded campaign, said Connie Kratky, a coordinator in the district’s Equity and Diversity Education department.
“We’re working hard to make sure we can put as much information in the hands of students and their parents to squelch what has become a huge problem across the board,” she said.
Clark County is not alone.
Nearly 20 percent of high school students in 2009 reported being bullied on school property in the past year, according to the Child Health USA 2011 report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Furthermore, 5 percent of high school students surveyed for the report didn’t attend school at least one day that month because they felt unsafe at school or on their way there or back home.
Bullying tends to be a larger problem for older elementary students through middle school, gradually lessening by 10th grade, Sharp said.
Many schools have their own initiatives, in addition to community-sponsored programs like the Metro Police seminars.
At a discussion about bullying at Hyde Park Middle School, eighth-grader Karlicia Stroughter admitted she was once a bully, but only after years of being a victim in elementary school.
“If they’re doing it, why can’t I?” Karlicia said, explaining her rationale for bullying others.
She credited maturity with eventually stopping the cycle.
“That’s rude,” Karlicia said she realized. “I don’t want to be the other person who makes someone hurt themselves.”
Tam Larnerd, a district academic manager, attended the forum wearing a bracelet emblazoned with the words “Stop Bullying.” Next to the message was a name: James Robinson, a 10th-grader at Coronado High School who committed suicide in September.
School police were investigating reports that bullying may have played a role in Robinson’s death, Larnerd said. The revelation stunned Larnerd, former principal of Miller Middle School where Robinson attended, who remembers the teen as a likable, outgoing student.
Last year, Nevada followed suit with other states and passed anti-bullying legislation, particularly aimed at round-the-clock, and often-anonymous, cyberbullying.
“Where before, bullying was primarily at school, now they go home and it’s on their text messages, it’s on email, it’s on Facebook,” Sharp said. “They can’t get away from it.”
The year-old law makes it a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances, for students to bully or cyberbully others.
Clark County School District Police Lt. Ken Young said school police have investigated 50 cases related to bullying.
Larnerd said it’s up to school officials and students working together to combat the issue.
“Most people would just sit there in silence because, ‘hey, that’s not happening to me,’” he said.
And that’s just as unacceptable, school officials say.
But old methods of reporting bullying, such as going to the dean’s office, haven’t worked either. Students feared they would be labeled the tattler, Larnerd said.
Now, students can access a reporting system online. Those reports go directly to school administrators and counselors, streamlining the process for getting affected students help, officials said.
Other efforts, such as “welcome tables,” have been aimed at helping students feel comfortable throughout the day.
“We’re just trying to figure out what we can do differently,” Larnerd said.
At Bailey, Principal Terri Knepp has made it her mission to weed out bullies through a variety of initiatives at the school, including the creation of a “bully list” this year.
The list is an outgrowth of an existing database of student records, which now keeps track of both alleged bullies and their victims after reported incidents.
“We’re trying to be very proactive about this,” Knepp said. “We’re not just focusing on one side.”
Anti-bullying efforts might seem extreme compared to previous generations, but that’s the reality of the situation, said Jennie Votaw, a crime prevention specialist with North Las Vegas Police who teaches a program at schools that includes discussions about bullying.
“The problem nowadays is the parents need to parent,” she said. “They’re leaving it up to law enforcement and the schools … We’re a product of our own environment. If the parent isn’t there to teach the kids these life skills, you can tell.”
At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring students succeed in school, officials said.
“I think there’s a recognition among educators that if kids don’t feel safe, they’re not going to learn well, if at all,” Larnerd said.