School puts focus on ‘bullying’

FAIRMONT — In the summer of 2014, the Fairmont Area School District published a pamphlet titled “What you need to know about bullying.”

The pamphlets were created during an anti-bullying crackdown throughout the state. They are available at both the elementary school and high school.

In the pamphlet, bullying is defined as intimidating, threatening, abusive or harming conduct that is objectively offensive. It also says the conduct is generally repeated or forms a pattern.

“You can have one instance that is so traumatic for the student that it could also be bullying,” noted high school Principal Kim Niss, adding, “Bullying in many cases can be harassment, and harassment is punishable by law.”

All teachers and staff undergo anti-bullying training every year.

Students also are being educated about what bullying is and how to prevent it.

“There are some serious issues that are happening that are not necessarily bullying,” explained Traci Lardy, dean of students for grades 7-12. “And there’s common confusion between some words: rude, mean and bullying, so we talk about the difference between them.”

New this year for students in grades 7-9 are wellness classes. These could be expanded to grades 10-12 in the future.

While the class takes place every day, once a week a different student support member will come in to talk about a certain topic. These have included mindfulness, learning, relieving stress and breathing techniques.

“We work with the kids on really preventing any type of rude, mean or bullying in the first place,” Niss said. “We place a big emphasis on building relationships with kids so that they have an adult that they’re connected to so that they feel comfortable making a report and talking to someone who can guide them.”

“We all have responsibilities and play roles and we want to make sure that kids feel safe and supported,” added Andy Traetow, principal for grades 7-8.

Niss said state law requires schools to have an anonymous tip box for students to report bullying. There is a box in the high school near the service window. A hard copy bullying/harassment report form can be found near the anonymous tip box.

There is a written bullying policy in the student handbook, which can be accessed online. There is also a form online that can be filled out and turned in.

Lardy checks both the anonymous tip box and the online forms for reports of bullying. She will then follow the district’s bullying prohibition policy, which was adopted in 2011, with the latest revision taking place this past summer.

“By law, we have to follow up within three school days on every report,” Niss explained.

Niss and Lardy both note that there are fewer students who use the anonymous tip box and fill out the form, because most students choose to come and report incidents in person.

“We take every report seriously and we do follow up on any information that we receive,” Traetow said.

One of the more frustrating things the district deals with when it comes to bullying is the fact that it cannot disclose any information about one student to another student’s parent.

“If two students are involved and we’re talking to the parents of child A, we don’t discuss our actions and responses to child B,” explained Traetow, adding that this restriction is school policy and state law.

If a case of bullying happens somewhere other than on school grounds or at a school event, but has a link with school or causes a material disruption to the school environment, then administrators can step in.

While pamphlets have been written, a policy prepared and teachers trained how to handle and report bullying, administrators also recognize the “Golden Rule” and how its use could help prevent bullying in the first place.

“If every person was just kind to one another, we would eliminate bullying,” Niss said.

“And that’s community-wide,” Lardy added.