Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Michigan activists trying to push anti-bullying legislation

By Todd A. Heywood | 03.29.11 | 10:46 am
Michigan advocates are continuing their drive to get the state legislature to pass an anti-bullying bill, even as Arkansas has gone back and reworked its law.

The new Arkansas law, which is heading to the desk of Gov. Mike Beebe, was amended to specifically list, or enumerate, protected classes.
In Michigan, the legislature’s conservatives, fueled by activism by Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, have long opposed legislation including enumeration. In the last hours of the 2008 sessions, advocates for the law agreed to strip the bill of enumeration, to address concerns from Republicans. Republican Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt) however refused to bring the stripped down bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
Cropsey was term limited out of office in November, but he was selected as the legislative liaison for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s pick to lead the Michigan State Police, Kristi Etue, said in December the Michigan State Police would continue its history of advocating for a strong anti-bullying law.
Kevin Epling, Co-Director of Bully Police USA, and the father of a son who committed suicide as the result of bullying, says he is frustrated at the lack of movement from the legislation.
“Arkansas has had a law for several years, but in keeping with many states it appears they have seen the need to update and adapt existing laws, to meet the needs of the changing dynamic of the bullying problem,” says Epling. “While Arkansas and other states have moved forward, it seems Michigan lawmakers have been committed to head in the opposite direction. Which to many parents has been extremely frustrating, and to a degree has cost students their lives because our previous lawmakers chose not to act and allowed people to simply look the other way.”
He said the recent anti-bullying conference at the White House was another reminder for him about how important the laws are.
“Seven years ago in Michigan my words fell on deaf ears, and to now hear our president echo some of those same thoughts is a strong vindication that some of us have always been on the right track for the right reasons: The safety of our children,” he says. “I am hopeful that our new legislative class will show their true ‘class’ and work for our kids and not their party or themselves this time around.This has never been about political party affiliation, sexual orientation or diminishing local control, it has been about our children and what they need, not what the adults want. Michigan’s political leadership needs not only to follow the other states but we should show our leadership and put forth a law that shows our commitment to our future generations.”
When and if the legislation passes, Epling says there is still much work left to be done to stop the bullying crisis in the country and state.
“We must remember that whatever language is in the Arkansas bill or is finalized in Michigan’s bill, it will still be the final implementation and enforcement of that law to make the changes needed,” Epling said. “Having a law is far better than just a policy but once passed, even though it has been a struggle for many of us, there is plenty of hard work ahead.”
Advocates for an strong anti-bullying bill will present a special showing of the play The Bullycide Project at Michigan State University’s Pasant Theater, located in the Wharton Center for Performing arts. The production will be Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The play was written and performed by actors of the Trust Theater Ensemble. Click here to view a trailer about the play on Facebook.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Truth About Bullying

Experts urge parents to empower children to deal with bullies.
By Lea Hurt
 Geneva Moccia is frustrated. Her 7-year-old son, who has a disability and language disorder, is the target of bullies at his elementary school.
“He’s been pushed, knocked down and called names,” she said. “I continue to work with the school, but I don’t accept the ‘kids will be kids’ attitude. I think the school plays it off and I want to know what to do.”
Moccia and about 50 other parents and community representatives met Tuesday night at Anne Arundel Medical Center for a seminar, “The Truth About Bullying.” Lucia Martin, Anne Arundel County school resource counselor, led audience members and a panel of professional and community representatives in a discussion on bullying in area schools.
The topic garnered national headlines last week when the White House hosted a bullying prevention conference, during which President Obama confessed he was picked on as a child for the size of his ears and unusual name. His experience is similar to the results of a 2010 Anne Arundel County school survey in which the majority of students who reported being bullied said it was because of the way they looked, talked or dressed.
“I get calls every day from parents who say, ‘My child is being bullied and the school isn’t doing anything about it,’” said panelist Dr. Leon Washington, county director of safe and orderly schools. “Sometimes it isn’t easy to prove a bullying case. The school relies so much on what we call bystanders, other students who see what happens and will report it. It is so important to tell your kids to participate by being supportive of those being bullied."
Bullying, as defined by the school system, is intentional, repeated, intended to harm, involves a power differential and creates a hostile environment. Each school has a bullying-education program, but the implementation varies among schools.
The county has a bullying, harassment or intimidation reporting form online and is developing a bullying-resource page for its website. At last night’s seminar, Martin led participants through steps parents should take to report bullying and tips on how to help your child deal with a threatening situation.    
“Do not tell your child to ignore a bully,” Martin said. “Be supportive and ask your child what he thinks will help. We need to teach our children what to say and how to react and make sure they understand that reporting a bully is not tattling."
If your child has experienced bullying at a school, contact the teacher or administrator and complete a bullying/harassment reporting form. An administrator will investigate and inform the parent of the results. Legally, the administrator cannot provide information about the bully to the victim’s parents.
Once the bullying behavior is verified, discipline will be applied as laid out in the code of student conduct. Following that, a school counselor will develop a “safety plan” to help prevent further occurrences.
Joe Van Duren, owner of Balanced Life Skills Martial Arts in Annapolis, said he believes confidence and a positive self-image can help a child deal with bullies.
“Bullying is about an imbalance of power," he said. "We need to encourage parents to help the child build self-esteem and confidence. Role playing is a great way to teach communication skills. Parents also need to model their behavior because kids will usually do 10 percent of what we tell them and 90 percent of what they see us do.”
But even the most structured plan can’t resolve every problem. A father in the audience spoke about a year-long effort to stop a high-school bully from harassing his daughter. Two weeks ago, after failing to reach a resolution, he began home schooling his child.
“Bystanders aren’t reporting bullying because they are scared," he said. "That bully is still at the school and my daughter is missing out on normal school activities.”
“We try, but we can’t solve every situation,” Martin said in an interview. “I am so saddened to hear these stories from parents. We will work with them to solve the problems. The school system does a lot, but you can still see the frustration.”
Making bullies aware of consequences to their actions is important. Lt. J.D. Batten, a panelist and commander of the county police’s School Safety Section, shared a recent incident in which a middle school boy was called names, threatened and “terrorized” in a school restroom.
“It’s easy for a kid to understand how that incident is a violation of the student code of conduct," Batten said. "But kids need to understand that incident is also a criminal assault and that’s where law enforcement gets involved. Starting in middle school we try to make them aware of adult accountability. Schools can’t solve everything.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bullying issue reaches White House stage

By Sandra Lilley, NBC News
"I am so excited," said Susan Birkinshaw, co-chair of the Health and Safety Committee of the Montgomery County, Maryland Council of PTAs, reacting to her upcoming participation in Thursday's White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.
In the wake of increased national attention to the problem of bullying President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are hosting the first ever White House conference on the issue Thursday.
The conference will bring together teachers, parents and students from across the country, including Birkinshaw who will participate via web site. She is thrilled that the issue has reached the national stage, "When it comes to bullying, everyone has to be on the same page."
Birkinshaw, a mother of three, recalled the incidents at a local middle school last year that compelled her PTA to call for a district-wide anti-bullying program.
"A girl's locker was vandalized with a used sanitary napkin," Birkinshaw said. "The girl's clothes were stained, so she had to wear gym clothes the rest of the day. Her locker was defaced with markers. But the school originally classified this as vandalism, even though the girl felt completely victimized."
In another incident, Birkinshaw spoke of a sixth grader who was "tormented" by different groups of students. "They called her ugly, ridiculed her clothing, and even took a picture of her in the bathroom with an iPod Touch. But it took a long time to resolve since so many different groups of children were bullying her." 
It was stories such as these that compelled her PTA to implement a countywide, bully reporting program aligned with state policies.
'Connect for Respect'
Since then, the Montgomery Council of PTAs has organized ongoing meetings with students, parents, school authorities and local public officials, including the state attorney's office. 
"I don't believe that our community would take this as seriously if the parents didn't press the issue," added Birkinshaw.
The need to combat bullying has propelled the National PTA to launch a nationwide initiative, "Connect for Respect."
"It's time to step it up because bullying is not just happening on playgrounds anymore. It's happening everywhere; online, via text, and on social networks. And parents may not know that it’s happening or what to do about it," said Chuck Saylor, National PTA President.
Dr. Tara L. Kuther, a professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University who specializes in adolescent and at-risk children, added: "Social media makes bullying more public and humiliating, allowing students who once might have been bystanders to participate in the bullying. Some websites permit anonymous posting, which allows bullies to act without fear of retribution or getting caught."
Some of Kuther’s tips on understanding bullying are part of the National PTA’s website at www.PTA.org/bullying.
The National PTA's "Connect for Respect" initiative will provide resources for parents, as well as for local PTAs, to encourage anti-bullying events, as well as the creation of anti-bullying policies and practices.   
Back in Montgomery County, Maryland, Susan Burkinshaw said the PTA was encouraged that "although the reporting of bullying incidents increased, the number of serious bullying incidents declined."  
Organizers like Burkinshaw and the National PTA's Chuck Saylor hope the White House conference on bullying gives anti-bullying efforts more national exposure, thus helping more children avoid being victimized in their schools.  
Related links:
Follow the conference LIVE on the White House web site

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

White House Sets Anti-Bullying Conference for March 10

In a conference call with reporters today, White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki said that next Thursday, Mar. 10, the White House will hold a conference on bullying.
White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes said that the conference is an event that would include President Obama and the Education and Health and Human Services departments.
Calling it an issue "very near and dear to the president and first lady's heart," Barnes noted that the president had recorded an "It Gets Better" video and said that the conference would include "students and parents and teachers and others impacted by bullying" and address, among other topics, "ways to take action to address [bullying] in their communities."
Metro Weekly reported on Feb. 17 that, in a meeting Obama held with senators to discuss the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, there was no discussion of either of the bills introduced in the 111th Congress that were aimed at reducing anti-LGBT bullying.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) never received the specific endorsement of the administration in the 111th Congress, although White House and Education Department officials repeatedly expressed support for the aims of the bills.
Neither Barnes nor Psaki referenced federal legislative efforts as a topic of discussion at the conference.
More details about the Mar. 10 conference are expected to be available soon, according to a White House spokesperson.
[UPDATE @ 5:15 PM: From the White House:
WASHINGTON – On Thursday, March 10, President Obama, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services will welcome students, parents, teachers and others to The White House for a Conference on Bullying Prevention. The conference will bring together communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it. Participants will have the opportunity to talk with the President and representatives from the highest levels of his Administration about how all communities can work together to prevent bullying.
More details to come ...]