Tyler County Superintendent of Schools Robin Daquilante addressed professional staff and service personnel on Monday, speaking on the issue of bullying in the county schools.
Superintendent Daquilante told those present she had contacted Westbrook Health Services, Inc., after speaking to the county's RESA V representative. RESA V and Westbrook Health Services currently sponsors The Schools Tackling At Risk Situations (STARS) program, whose purpose is to provide support in the form of education on topics like bullying, anger and violence, dropping out, substance abuse, and other issues.
"Their representative was scheduled to speak to you today," explained Ms. Daquilante, "but had to cancel at the last minute."
Daquilante said she had begun researching the bullying issue in an effort to better address the dynamics of the problem. "There have been instances of bullying reported and some of them may be legitimate, while others may not," said Daquilante. "One of the biggest problems I've found is that nobody's reporting these incidents. We cannot fix what we don't know about."
"I'm not sure it's as bad as the public says it is," continued Daquilante. "First, we must define what is bullying, and what is not."
"Bullying is a pattern of hostile, conscious, repeated behaviors toward another person" said Daquilante. "These behaviors can include taunting and embarrassing a student; physical altercations such as shoving, pushing, and tripping; racial slurs; and cyber-bullying."
"Bullying is a pattern of hostile, conscious, repeated behaviors toward another person."
"In order for these things to be considered bullying, it must be repeated behavior," stressed Daquilante, "and not a one-time incident."
"What if a student repeats the behaviors with other students, instead of just one student?" asked one faculty member.
"If the pattern is ongoing, that would be considered bullying," said Daquilante.
"Most instances of bullying occur when there is little or no supervision around," added Daquilante. "We have to be aware - in the halls, at lunch, on the playground, on the buses. This is where bullying can happen."
Daquilante informed those present that as of July 1, according to new state guidelines, every school employee becomes a mandatory reporter, which means any employee who witnesses instances of bullying must report the actions to their superior. Failure to do so will be a misdemeanor, according to the policy.
"You must report to your immediate supervisor," said Daquilante. "It can happen at a dance, it can happen in the classroom. Most often it happens where supervision is not as great."
Daquilante also brought up the issue of cyber-bullying, saying, "Text messages and social media sites are places where bullying can happen, too."
Daquilante told staffers of a recent court case involving the Berkeley County (WV) school board and a student. The student had created a denigrating webpage about another student; she was consequently expelled by the board for five days.
"You know, they say you can't address what a student does after school, on her own computer, in her own home," said Daquilante, "but in this case, the court decided that what the student had done was disruptive to the learning process."
"This is an area that is new to all of us," added Daquilante. "This case went to the Supreme Court of West Virginia. The court ruled that the expulsion of the student was permissible because the student had caused disruption in the school."
"You have to be 18 to vote, you have to be 16 to drive, but you only have to be 14 to have a Facebook page," commented a teacher. "These kids can get on the Internet and say and do anything, no matter how age-inappropriate."
"We have a new internet policy," said Daquilante. "After July 1, school personnel cannot be 'friends' with students on Facebook. As school employees, we need to be careful of what we say on Facebook, as well. Our behavior and content is scrutinized, too."
Daquilante went on to explain some examples of actions or incidents that were not considered bullying.
"Bullying is not being excluded. It is not an isolated act of harassment. Bullying is not about not liking someone. As I used to tell my students, you don't have to like that person, but you have to be respectful to others," said Daquilante. "Bumping into someone in the hallway accidentally is not bullying. Expressions of unpleasant thoughts or feelings is not bullying. An argument is not bullying."
"We have to be alert, and we have to notify," said Daquilante. "If you see a student and you suspect bullying may be happening, speak to your supervisor. Send an email to other teachers, so that others can be informed and be aware."
"We are open to suggestions," added Daquilante. "Talk to kids, and find out what is going on."
"Do I think all of these latest incidents have been bullying?" said Daquilante. "Absolutely not. "Does it take time to get to the bottom of the allegations? It certainly does."
"If you think a problem is brewing, let us know. We don't see everything that is going on. Speak up," Daquilante said. "Some parents have said their child was having problems since October - this is February. We had no knowledge of the problem."
"We have to communicate," Daquilante added. "We can't intervene if we are not aware of the situation."
Superintendent Daquilante plans to have the STARS representative in to speak to students, and is also planning to have a presentation for parents, as well.