Bullying in the nation’s middle schools is a national story. It’s a local one as well. WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with ISD166 Superintendent Beth Schwarz about the problem in Cook County.
The subject of bullying in school has inched toward center stage across the nation’s educational system. It’s also a topic of discussion in the Middle School at ISD166. Superintendent Beth Schwarz:
Schwarz: The district right now needs to work a little bit on a response to report of bullying. But, right now, our plan is that for the short term, the remainder of the school year, I’ve asked our administrative staff to really step up vigilance when bullying reports come in, to very assertively pursue them and to make sure consequences are followed through on.
In a letter sent to parents, Schwarz outlined some approaches to handling reports of bullying in the short term. Class meetings will be held to discuss citizenship issues with all students and discipline will be stepped up for bullying and classroom disruptions. Students who display good school citizenship and leadership qualities will be recognized, as will those whose social behaviors show improvement.
Schwarz: Retaliation is something that I don’t think we’ve spent enough time on. In other words, when a student is a victim of being bullied, and then that student reports it, and then that student again experiences bullying from that same student, if it’s related to the report, which usually if it’s in a timely manner shortly thereafter, that’s considered retaliation. We need to really start to address that.
Schwarz added that Cook County School students need to learn how to live respectfully with each other.
Schwarz: School culture is going to be something I think that’s going to become very prevalent conversation as we move forward, particularly into the next year. Because when students are not comfortable and are not reassured, learning becomes a difficult thing to do. So, therefore, school culture is important. I don’t want folks out there to get the idea that Cook County school district is not a safe place to be. It is a safe place to be. But, at the same time, can we do better, can we work on cultural issues? Yes, we can.
According to Schwarz there are some cultural issues unique to Cook County.
Schwarz: We have a Native American population of 20 percent. We have a relatively high low-income population of 35 percent. My guess is that that’s probably even higher, as not everybody will fill out forms necessary to receive free and reduced lunch. We have a higher special ed. population than the average in the state. So, therefore, our culture is different. Other school districts deal with multiple languages, or deal with transients, in other words, students moving in and out of the school district. Those are things we don’t deal with. But, in our particular district, we do have some interesting dynamics between the cultures, and sometimes when that has been ingrained in the society, it’s not obvious and it’s not blatent, and sometimes that almost becomes harder to address. It’s kind of almost like an undercurrent.
She added that anything which sets a student apart could be fodder for bullying – how a student is perceived by others, by herself, how he feels the District or teachers perceive him. She said the school has come a long way this year, but still has a long way to go. As far has how prevalent bullying is in the Middle school, Schwarz, would only say the numbers are higher than she’d like them to be.
Schwarz: It’s not an incredibly violent thing. Again, it’s more of an undercurrent. Some folks would probably even say “oh, middle-schoolers will be middle-schoolers.” I don’t agree with that particular philosophy. I am not satisfied with an average middle school.
Jay Andersen, WTIP news.