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Getting tough on bullying

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM

Getting tough on bullying

Schools, parents, students taking bigger steps to stop harassment


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egs covered with bruises, glasses broken, homework ripped up.

This is how fifth-grader Lily Boxall spent most of her school year at Hugh R. Jones Elementary School.

"I knew people were going to bully me every day. I would be scared even just to get on the bus," Lily said.

When the 10-year-old Utica girl finally told her mother about it in December, her grades were dropping and she was having nightmares.

Her mother, Ashley Torres, went to the school. But when the issue wasn't resolved and Lily told her mother she didn't want to live anymore, Torres immediately moved her to Roscoe Conkling School. She hasn't had issues since.

Districts say that they've been working to stop bullying, especially since the implementation of the state's Dignity for All Students Act in July. But bullying still is a major issue across the country, and experts say it's increasing with the use of cellphones, the Internet and social media.

As awareness increases, parents, teachers and students are being more vocal about incidents. Both the Utica and Rome city school districts have had parents speak out at recent school board meetings on the issue.

In Utica, all complaints are thoroughly investigated, and the district has worked extensively on the prevention of bullying, said Lori Eccleston, district director of curriculum and instruction.

"We don't take bullying lightly," she said. "We want kids to come to school feeling safe, feeling secure, being able to participate in their classes."

The district has put programs into place, changed its code of conduct to include bullying and made principals more vigilant about making sure issues are addressed, Eccleston said.

The state act increases bullying prevention programs, requires age-appropriate disciplinary measures for students who violate the regulations, increased training for staff, and requires districts to report bullying incidents to the state. Each school building must also have a Dignity Act Coordinator, which in most cases is the principal.

"We are taking this in an extremely serious manner to make sure those areas are dealt with," said Howard Mettelman, Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES district superintendent.

But when bullying becomes such a large issue, changing the mentality of a district can be a massive undertaking that takes time.

"Change is not going to happen over night," said Michelle Boykins, National Crime Council director of Communications and Marketing. "It takes a year to three years to really fully see the change that you want."

With that in mind, districts will use this year as a baseline, Mettelman said. The data reports will be out in August, at which time districts can see what they need to focus on to improve, he said.

In March, Michele Grifasi of Rome got a phone call - her 11th-grader had overdosed.

Grifasi's daughter, Kaleigh, had been bullied by a former boyfriend for months, with no recourse, the mother said.

Luckily, Kaleigh called for help. She's now doing much better and helping others by telling her story, Grifasi said.

"The school district has got to step up and take responsibility," she said. "We all need to work together. I don't want any other parent to ever receive the phone call that I got."

Rome officials acknowledged criticism for its lack of response to bullying and is in the process of modifying its own code of conduct.

"We're going to have to take a tougher stand on it," said district Superintendent Jeffrey Simons.

Steps include trying to respond to incidents of bullying in a timelier, more consistent and effective manner, he said. The district is working on a streamlined web-based reporting system that would send all incident reports directly to Simons. It is expected to be in place by June.

The district also will have a new code of conduct in place by fall with a more prescriptive set of disciplinary consequences for behaviors such as bullying and harassment, Simons said.

While data wasn't available for Utica, this year, Rome police had 44 calls for service at Rome Free Academy, five specifically for bullying, said Detective Commander Tim Bates. And that doesn't mean there were only five, as they may be labeled differently, such as harassment, he said.

"It's a serious problem," Bates said.

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