Now that kids are back at school, some are back at school with bullies.
Representatives of schools, districts and organizations devoted to ending bullying said Thursday that it remains a complex issue with no easy fix.
Each of five school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley has two to three pages of their district policy devoted to bullying — how to recognize it, how to deal with it and how to stop it.
Each superintendent was asked: “Why doesn’t hitting the bully back work for a child who is bullied?”
Jeff Pelzel, superintendent with the Newhall School District, said there is no place for school violence.
“We do not condone bullying nor do we condone a response that involves hitting another student,” he said Thursday. “Neither action is appropriate and we work hard to train our students on how to resolve conflict without resorting to any act of physical aggression.
“We remind our students to report these types of situations to a trusted adult so that we can work to educate all students on making the best choices and to take a hard stance against bullying behavior.”
Newhall District students are “encouraged to notify school staffers when they’re being bullied or suspect that another student is being victimized.”
Its official policy spells out the corrective action bullies can expect: counseling, “behavioral intervention and education,” and, if the bullying is really bad — defined as “severe or pervasive” — corrective action could lead to suspension or expulsion.
“Hitting the bully back continues a cycle of violence that, when unchecked or encouraged, can lead to dire consequences,” said Colleen Hawkins, superintendent of the Saugus Union School District.
“Instead, we prefer to respond to bullying with positivity and kindness, to reverse the behavior instead of encouraging it.”
The Saugus policy was revised in 2017 to reflect bullying online, from the original language adopted in 2012, with new language addressing the implications of social media.
“Social media and the internet have ushered in a whole different set of problems, which require a different set of solutions,” Hawkins said.
“As soon as we recognized the power that social media has with our student body, we felt it necessary to add language to our policies so our community would be safe. Regardless of the type of threat — physical, emotional or virtual — we are committed to providing a safe place for our students.”
The policies of other districts reflect the same basic strategy.
Steve Doyle, superintendent of the Castaic Union School District, called his district’s policy on bullying self-explanatory.
“It starts with reporting the behavior to an adult, followed by an investigation/intervention by the teacher and/or administrator and finally resolution with possible discipline.”
The policy addressing bullies at Castaic has been tweaked over the years, primarily in recent years to address the impacts of social media and cyberbullying.
“It used to be that bullying was a Monday to Friday thing. Now, with social media kids are bullied 24-seven,” he said.
William S. Hart Union High School District
The board at the William S. Hart Union High School District updated its policy on bullying on Feb. 3, 2016.
“The policy is set up so that there are repercussions,” Hart District spokesman Dave Caldwell said.
“Anytime there’s a situation where punishment is warranted, that punishment might involve suspension or other means of corrective action,” he said.
Hart’s policy reads: “Cyberbullying includes the creation or transmission of harassing communications, direct threats, or other harmful texts, sounds, or images on the internet, social media, or other technologies using a telephone, computer, or any wireless communication device. Cyberbullying also includes breaking into another person’s electronic account and assuming that person’s identity in order to damage that person’s reputation.”
Experts say fighting back doesn’t necessarily work.
Ross Ellis, who runs the nonprofit Stomp Out Bullying, works to “educate the educators” in New York City about bullying.
On Thursday, she took time out from organizing the third annual Stomp Out Bullying symposium with the New York Jets to talk to The Signal. She was asked the question put to each of SCV’s five superintendents: “Why doesn’t hitting the bully back work for a child who is bullied?”
“It doesn’t work,” she said. “The bully may not cower. He may decide instead to go and get into a real fist fight.”
“Besides,” she said. “Whether it’s New York or California, both of the kids will be suspended — the bully and the bullied.”
So what does work?
“As the principal, I would call the (bully’s) parent and say ‘Can you please come in at 9:30 tomorrow?’
“When they show up, you offer them some coffee and you say, ‘Bobby, is a valuable part of this school but Bobby has a behavioral issue and we want to help you get to the bottom of it.
“You’re not confronting the parent. Most of the time they’ll understand. But, you have to get to the root of it because if you can’t find the root of it, you can’t fix it.”
Phone calls and emails left with the Sulphur Springs Union School District were not returned.