Tom Forcella: What schools are doing about bullying

November 29, 2013 

Every day when we open the newspaper, there seems to be another story about bullying.

We have been heartbroken by national stories of young people who endured harassment day after day at school and, ultimately, took unfortunate actions. And, just recently, we have read of bullying in professional sports.

Today, bullying is no longer just a big kid hurting a smaller kid on the playground, and it no longer stops at the end of the school day. Now, through social media bullies can send messages to their victims 24/7.

On a school level, bullying has negative consequences for the general school climate and for the right of students to learn in a safe environment without fear.

I believe teaching our students how to make good choices and decisions through character education and positive behavior programs is just as important as any of the academic instruction we provide. Our Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district has implemented a district-wide bullying prevention/intervention program to help ensure that all our students are able to learn in a safe and fear-free environment.

All of our schools and programs have implemented Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a systems approach for creating positive school climates. Each school has developed expectations for student behaviors. Teachers teach these behaviors often and acknowledge students when they demonstrate the expected behavior. PBIS schools also provide the necessary interventions whenever a student’s behavior is interfering with learning and academic progress.

This year, our elementary schools are using an anti-bullying program called “Stop, Walk and Talk” which gives students the language for responding to bullying. When bullying occurs, students are taught to tell the perpetrator to “STOP” the action. If the behavior does not stop, they are taught to “WALK” away. Finally, students learn that when someone continues to behave inappropriately, they should “TALK” to someone who can affect change.

Our staff takes all complaints of bullying very seriously. All reported bullying incidents are investigated, and once substantiated, the student is referred to our school counselors who provide research-based interventions.

Each year, all our staff members are trained on what bullying is and isn’t, what the law states regarding bullying, and what staff response should be when they suspect that a student is being bullied.

As a district, CHCCS is committed to doing our part, but we all need to model how to treat others with kindness and respect, and be willing to speak out against biased or bullying behaviors that we witness. Parents should encourage their children to talk to them about bullying and not hesitate to contact their child’s teacher or principal if they suspect it taking place.

Our mission is to ensure that all students acquire the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes to achieve their learning potential – and with the help of the programs to curb bullying in our schools and the support of our community, that will continue to be the expectation.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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