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Candidates discuss antidotes to bullying
From meditation to technology, would-be school board trustees mull strategies.
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 31, 2012
Seven school board candidates differ on what the district should do to further prevent bullying in county schools.
While none criticized the district’s current efforts, they offered a broad spectrum of approaches to the increasingly important topic a week before the general election for four open seats. Many said the community should be involved in stopping harassment at any level.
One candidate said Teton County School District No. 1 needs to pay attention to ever-changing technology. Another thinks his curriculum ideas would be an antidote to any bullying.
Bullying has been in the national spotlight the past several years due to some tragic cyber-incidents, social media and even a recent documentary on the topic.
The Wyoming state Legislature passed a law in 2008 requiring all school districts to update their harassment policies, which encompass bullying, to include cyberbullying and harassment tactics that involve cellphones, text messaging and activity on the Internet.
The school district complied and has a positive behavior program at each grade level as well as a new strategic goal to keep the learning environment safe and healthy for all kids. The district’s policy has been no tolerance for bullying.
All candidates agreed that bullying is a problem everywhere, even in Teton County with its heightened bully-free measures. The district needs to make sure its bullying prevention curriculum changes with technology, candidate Zia Yasrobi said via email.
“As technology changes the ways students interact with each other we should ensure that anti-bullying curriculum evolves as well,” Yasrobi said. “We have an obligation to continue to address and combat bullying. ... It is only through education and understanding that bullying will ultimately be stopped.”
Mindfulness meditation and physical education — candidate Jay Varley’s primary platforms for the school board race — could do a lot to prevent bullying, he said.
Meditation could help students increase feelings of compassion and help them deal with negative emotions, Varley said via email. His idea for a fitness-based education program would build students’ confidence, which could end bullying.
“It is less about disciplining the bully than it is about solving the problem,” he said. “The best thing that can be done is that the kids in the schools not be willing to tolerate bullying nor does the community.”
Bullying can lead to a vicious cycle where the kid getting bullied becomes a bully to gain control, which can really disrupt the classroom, candidate Robbi Farrow said in an email. District programs help teachers recognize the needs of children sooner, Farrow said.
“You need to know what drives the behavior so you can make an impact or change,” she said.
The district has been dealing with bullying appropriately, candidate Joe Larrow said in an email.
“Our teachers and superintendent deal with this sternly, severely and in accordance with school policy,” he said. “Zero tolerance has been the answer.”
Candidate Syd Elliott agreed that district has taken proper steps and that parent involvement is crucial.
“The district is aware that bullying affects the learning environment and is hopeful that by reducing this type of behavior they will enrich good social relationships and learning,” she said. “By hopefully collaborating with parents, the two groups can curtail this type of behavior, not only in but outside of school.”
Some kids still have a problem reporting bullying for cultural reasons, incumbent Kate Mead said.
“Kids feel like they can’t tell on somebody,” she said.
There should be a dual approach to training kids to know what to do when they’re bullied as well as to help bullies unlearn behavior that caused them to be like that, Mead said.
Oftentimes bullies are troubled as well, she said.
“In severe situations they ought to get tossed out of school for a few days but also have a counseling component to it,” Mead said.
Candidate Patricia A. Russell agreed that bullying punishment should be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“Clearly, in any case, the parents should be called in to discuss the situation and given tools to talk to their child about the behavior,” she said via email. “It is not only the district’s job to educate kids regarding bullying, it is very much the parents’ job as well.”
Russell said that she has not heard of as many bullying incidents as she did even two years ago, due to district efforts.