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Superintendent: ‘We’ve got to stop cycle’ of school bullying

Updated Wednesday, May 7, 2014 | 9:30 p.m.

Pat Skorkowsky

Pat Skorkowsky

To combat bullying among students, the Clark County School District must strengthen its reporting and disciplinary policies and expand professional development for staff, according to a report released today by an internal task force.

For the past two months, a group composed of 25 school administrators, staff and police has been reviewing district policies and state laws on bullying. Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky convened the task force in March amid growing criticism of how the district handles bullying cases.

“Bullying is not a new problem,” Skorkowsky said. “But we’ve got to stop the cycle. It’s our responsibility and our moral duty to keep (students) safe.”

The task force found that the School District has several policies addressing bullying, cyber-bullying, school safety and student discipline, but needs to expand these regulations and develop an accountability system to ensure staff compliance at all schools.

Headed by retired associate superintendent Billie Rayford, the task force also recommended a new policy for disciplining bullies and notifying parents about bullying incidents.

A proposed new regulation would mandate that school principals investigate a bullying report “immediately,” and once it was completed, to send written notification to the parents of the bullying victim, the bully and any witnesses within one school day. Students found to bully others may face disciplinary action, including a three-day suspension or expulsion.

The task force also recommended training on recognizing, preventing and reporting bullying incidents to central administrators, school principals, deans, counselors, teachers, coaches, support staff and bus drivers.

In addition, the group advised the School District to develop school-wide bullying interventions, embed anti-bullying lessons in English classes at least four times a year, and introduce similar lessons in sixth-grade health classes. Currently, schools teach anti-bullying lessons in fifth, eighth and 10th grade health classes, which leaves a gap during middle school when bullying is most prevalent.

Skorkowsky said he plans to create subcommittees to study the best ways to implement these recommendations by the start of next school year.

Although these recommendations focus on the district’s efforts to combat bullying, Skorkowsky encouraged parents to talk to their children about bullying because the problem often begins at home. Skorkowsky urged students to not be bystanders, but “upstanders” to stand up to bullies and report bullying to school officials.

“This isn’t just a parent problem. It’s not just a district problem. It’s a community, state and national problem,” Skorkowsky said. “This will be one of the top priorities for the district moving forward. But bullying won’t stop until every member of this community understands it has to stop.”

School Board members commended the task force for its recommendations, and acknowledged that bullying is a problem in the district. Member Carolyn Edwards said her son was bullied at his school bus stop. She said she had to threaten a lawsuit to get her son’s school to address the issue.

“There exists an attitude that ‘kids will be kids’ that just cannot be tolerated at all,” Edwards said. “We need a paradigm shift and it has to start today. Bullying is not acceptable.”

Board members shared personal stories about their children’s experiences with bullying, some becoming visibly emotional. They also suggested their own recommendations to prevent bullying, including the following:

• Having district staff monitor bullying reports submitted through school websites after school and on weekends

• Focusing professional development on substitute teachers

• Implementing counseling for bullies.

• Disciplining students who videotape bullying incidents.

• Asking students to sign anti-bullying pledges.

• Letting students who are bullied fight back

“Why do we ask students to stand there and take it?” School Board member Deanna Wright said, her voice rising. “We shouldn’t allow students to stand there and take it.”

Parents attending Wednesday’s School Board meeting expressed mixed opinions about the task force recommendations. While some parents said they welcomed the recommendations, others criticized the process and results.

One parent chastised the School District for not including parents and students on the task force, and the School Board for making parents wait several hours before discussing the bullying report. Other parents questioned why the task force failed to create an accountability system for administrators who fail to properly report, investigate and discipline bullies, and not mandating counseling for chronic bullies.

“I have absolutely zero faith in these school administrators,” Daniel Lincoln said. “Simply moving (a bully to another school) is just moving the problem to another school and giving them a whole new group of students to harass.”

Jason Lamberth called the recommendations “lackluster.” The father of Hailee Joy Lamberth, a White Middle School seventh-grader who committed suicide after being bullied earlier this school year, said his daughter’s school knew about her bullies and did nothing to stop it.

School principals, who are legally responsible to investigate bullying, can shirk their responsibility to do so if they don’t deem an incident as bullying. State law requires that schools notify parents of all alleged bullying incidents immediately, not once an administrator determines bullying occurred, Lamberth said.

Lamberth said he plans to push legislation in 2015 to make failing to report bullying a criminal offense, similar for teachers who fail to report child abuse.

As for his questions surrounding his daughter’s bullying case, Lamberth said he’s still waiting for answers. White Middle School’s principal is still on campus with “little more than a written admonishment for administrators,” Lamberth said.

“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to ensure accountability,” he said. “CCSD is taking a reactionary stand when it has the opportunity to be proactive and be a model for other school districts.”

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