State releases bullying statistics of area schools
The days of peer-to-peer contact only taking place within the confines of a school building are in the past. Social media and the age of 24/7 communication possibilities have only ramped up the potential for bullying among today’s youth.
As the complex issue continues to evolve, so do the ways school districts in the area deal with the problem.
Each year, every school district in the state is required to report how many incidents, bullying being among them, it documents to the state Department of Education. PDE then publishes the information annually in its Safe Schools Report.
For the 2017-18 school year, reported bullying incidents were as follows; Tamaqua, 10; Pleasant Valley, 6; Lehighton, 2; Palmerton, 2; Jim Thorpe, 1; Northern Lehigh, 0; Panther Valley, 0; Carbon Career and Technical Institute, 0; and Weatherly, 0.
In 2016-17, Tamaqua reported 12 bullying incidents, Pleasant Valley reported 1; Lehighton reported 0; Palmerton reported 0; Jim Thorpe reported 0; Northern Lehigh reported 0; Panther Valley, 0; Carbon Career and Technical Institute, 0; and Weatherly, 0.
According to PDE, bullying is defined as an “intentional electronic, written, verbal or physical act, or a series of acts directed at another student or students; occurring in a school setting; is severe, persistent or pervasive; and substantially interferes with a student’s education, creates a threatening environment, or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school.”
When it is reported
Several local administrators said bullying is usually only cited in the report if the situation rose to a citation or suspension.
There are 54 misconduct categories on the Safe Schools Report, and incidents are not required to be duplicated, meaning something that may have started out as bullying was reported under similar categories such as harassment/intimidation or disorderly conduct.
In the Tamaqua Area School District, Superintendent Ray Kinder said when an incident of bullying is reported to administration, the administrator will investigate by speaking to the reporter, alleged victim, alleged perpetrator and any adult/student witnesses to the bullying. Collection of artifacts such as screenshots or papers occurs if available. Based upon the information, a determination is made by the administrator, and, if appropriate, discipline is carried out.
“The biggest challenges are the ‘he said, she said’ types of situations where reports conflict and an administrator cannot make a conclusive determination as to what has occurred,” Kinder said. “Oftentimes this leads to a feeling that nothing has been done, when in reality quite a bit of effort and time has been allotted to the issue.”
After a board member questioned Pleasant Valley School District’s anti-bullying efforts last year, district administrators were given a chance to outline what happens in their buildings.
Elementary Principal Roger Pomposello described anti-bullying lessons at every grade level in his building.
“We work really hard at that character education, defining what is a bully,” he said.
How it is handled
Other administrators discussed how reports of bullying are investigated, and a final determination on consequences is made.
“We’ve been focusing on the aftermath and getting students to really understand how the person being bullied felt,” said Todd Breiner, Pleasant Valley Intermediate School principal.
“We want our students to understand they should not be a bystander,” said Josephine N. Fields, middle school assistant principal. “We’ve asked them to think about what they can do to play a role in stopping bullying.”
Matthew Triolo, high school principal, said the school would start a mentoring program for freshmen. They will each be paired up with a junior.
“Kids need to feel like they have someone to lean on,” he said. “We want to create a family atmosphere and a culture that focuses on school pride.”
Dr. Brian Gasper said Jim Thorpe Area School District has a similar procedure as other districts.
“When bullying is reported,” Gasper said, “the incident is investigated in a timely manner. Teachers, guidance counselors and administration work together to come up with solutions to resolve any issues. Penn-Kidder Campus takes a proactive and preventive approach to address these concerns, using measures such as schoolwide positive behavior programs, anti-bullying assemblies, and mini-lessons in order to give our students the tools they need to successfully navigate the social-emotional aspects of school.”
Some of the biggest challenges that administration faces, he added, include finding sufficient evidence to support a consequence/punishment for bullying since these situations are most often occurring when the staff is not aware.
Social media has become a game changer when it comes to bullying.
“It’s a huge concern as most cases of bullying are occurring online,” Gasper said. “Although these situations are happening when the student is at home, the residual effects carry over into the school environment. Identifying whether or not a specific situation is in fact bullying or just a student conflict can pose some difficulties as students and parents do not always understand the difference between the two situations.”
Elementary Principal Robert Palazzo and Intermediate School Principal Lisa Mace offered their take on bullying procedures in Panther Valley School District.
The district has standard operating procedures as a whole, but each building has a slight differentiation according to the grade levels.
“When a report is made, I interview the involved students and any possible witnesses to get an idea of the big picture,” Mace said. “A determination is made whether it is truly a case of bullying or if there is peer conflict. Records are kept and entered into Sapphire (student information system) to track infractions. This helps with looking back on incidents to see if there are patterns with particular students. After a determination is made, consequences are given based on the level of severity of the incident. Progressive discipline is used for those students who continually build up infractions.”
Palazzo said at the elementary level, there are very few incidents that rise to the level of bullying.
“Often, there are isolated peer conflicts that are easily resolved,” he said. “If those conflicts persist or are ongoing then it may rise to the level of bullying. Our Cool Cat expectations help students understand what is expected behavior in school.”
Like many issues, bullying may never cease to exist, but local districts feel their procedures are helping statistics trend in a positive direction.
“I believe they are as effective as they can be,” Kinder said. “Hopefully what is most effective is the realization by students that it is a behavior without usefulness. Neither the bully or the victim feels good in the end. Many of our students have admirably chosen to show positive support for each other, rather than negative.”