School bullying discussed at County Board

Commissioner Janice Hall
Commissioner Janice Hall

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Bullying at Cook County Schools is concerning County Commissioner Jan Hall. She brought the matter up at the board’s May 18 meeting. She said that while it’s not a county board issue it is a county-wide concern. WTIPs Jay Andersen has this story.
 
 
Cook County Commissioner Jan Hall told fellow board members on Tuesday that even though it’s not a local government issue, she’s concerned about bullying in Cook County Schools.
 
Hall: Starting in October, I started receiving calls about bullying in the school. I talked to different people and suggested different things and then it would go on for awhile and they didn’t get back to me. I’m not getting any help. No one’s addressing this. No one will give me any information. It has escalated into children not wanting to go to school, stomach aches, all kinds of excuses. It’s been documented from parents, and now, it’s escalated to a point where I’m getting stopped on the street: “Is there anything?” And I said the County Board does not have control over that.
 
She asked fellow board members if any of them attended school board meetings. The general answer was only if they had specific concerns, but not on a regular basis. She said public information meetings would not be the answer. Students need to be told of the consequences of their behavior. Commissioner Jim Johnson said at one of the health care meetings he attended bringing in an expert on bullying had been discussed, but he didn’t know if it had been followed up on. Hall said parents want the presentation in the classroom.
 
Hall: I believe that it would be nice if they had a professional come in, talk to the different age groups within the school, let the kids know that this is unacceptable. I don’t think they have had an actual professional person discussing how bad this is throughout our whole nation, and I just don’t want to see this escalate from the elementary and get worse as they go into the higher grades, which it does. I’m really worried about it. I’ve got mothers asking me, “What should we do? What should we do?” They’re very concerned about it.
 
Later, in a telephone conversation, ISD 166 Superintendent Beth Schwartz said the district has been dealing with the increase in bullying, especially in the middle school grades.
 
Schwartz: Right now at ISD 166, we are looking into student behaviors and reports of bullying have prompted us to do a student survey a few months ago. Based on that information, we spoke to classes, particularly the middle school grades six, seven and eight, reiterated or restated our expectations of behaviors. We have also increased our watch of what’s going on in the hallways. When students report any instances, we are assertively investigating those. Consequences are being followed through on. If parents do not feel that children are reporting, we would encourage them to call the school and let us know. When a child is accused of a bullying situation, we have to investigate that. Sometimes it becomes very hard, challenging, to decide exactly what happened, because it’s often a kind of he-said-she-said-type situation, but we do have ways of determining exactly what has happened. We also ask kids to do a self-evaluation on their own behaviors and what sort of citizen they are. We had the classes work on what types of behaviors, listing out what examples of good behavior and what examples of poor behavior are so that they can realize that. And, of course, we think that all sixth, seventh and eighth graders understand that, and they do, but sometimes we just need to remind them, particularly of behaviors that are not maybe perceived immediately as bullying. For example, you might jokingly call someone a name, but you don’t know what type a day that person has had. Calling a name is never appropriate. You may mean it in fun, but because you don’t know the context of that student’s day, it can often be very hurtful.
 
Commissioner Hall reiterated the concerns she said she was hearing from parents.
 
Hall: Well, we have parents who are taking their kids out of school and putting them into online. I mean, there’s a family that has done that due to the fact of bullying and it has not been addressed. The parents tell me that they just don’t get anywhere with this.
 
Board Chair Fritz Sobanja said that if a county commissioner was being brought into the discussion, that indicated to him that the school board was not doing its job. He added that he was aware of two families who have withdrawn children from school because of bullying. He added that enrollment will continue to decline if kids feel they are getting beat up. He encouraged Hall to attend school board meetings and bring up her concern. Schwartz said the administration, staff and even the students do not want a culture of bullying at ISD 166.
 
Schwartz: You know, do we have kids getting beat up and bloody noses and black eyes? No, we don’t have that sort of a situation. We have the very subtle, kind of chronic bullying that is very tough on kids. A lot of it’s verbal; sometimes it’s the pushing the books out of a student’s hand, those sorts of things that can really be degrading when it happens over a long period of time. It’s also the type of thing that students will put up with and not necessarily report. I guess if you push me for a percentage, I would say victims are on a regular basis, very chronic, it’s less than 20 percent, but as I talk with the students, what’s an acceptable number? And, the acceptable number, of course, is zero. We don’t want any of this happening.
 
For WTIP News, I’m Jay Andersen.


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