ANDERSON — Dawna McCloud’s son’s bullying began in the classroom and elevated to the school bus after discipline was given at Anderson High School last year. At the bus stop, the bully broke her son’s jaw.
“Kids don’t realize they’re on school grounds and think they can get away with it,” she said.
While the student was expelled from Anderson High, McCloud said her son is still afraid of being attacked and that victims often share a fear of retaliation if they report the incidents.
School leaders, students, parents and law enforcement met at Anderson High School last week to discuss not only how to get kids comfortable with reporting incidents of bullying, but also to intervene when they see other students in trouble.
The Indiana General Assembly passed legislation this year that changes the definition of bullying, and requires school districts to compile data and create new reporting and training programs for students and staff by Oct. 15.
Anderson High School Principal Terry Thompson said educators would have to have their “heads in the sand” not to know what’s going on. He gets, on average, two reports of bullying a day. And that’s just the kids who come forward.
“Clearly we have a problem,” Thompson said. “It’d be nice to say ‘yeah, we don’t,’ but I think we do.”
During the first first full week of classes there was an incident where a special needs student was intimidated, he said.
Some students chased him from the bus stop to his house and tried to get in, upsetting the teen who “felt backed into a corner,” Thompson said. Anderson police said the autistic teen fired a shot into the air and was arrested.
The youths were not expelled because administrators want to keep kids in school, Thompson said, but he added that incidents like it won’t be tolerated as AHS needs to make sure all students feel safe.
Students in the anti-bullying task force created a survey that garnered 1,803 responses out of a little over 1,900 students. In it, 11 percent, or about 200 kids, reported that they consider themselves a bully at least sometimes.
That percentage, school board member Stephanie Moran said, shows a need for supportive behavioral interventions. Senior Austin Chambers suggested a kindness education class that he said would be worth it if even one student was changed.
Moran said officials do “need to make a cultural change” to help stop the bullying. It’s not a unique topic for schools all over, she added, and the majority — on AHS’ survey — think it’s wrong.
But the majority of students, 83 percent, also said they had never reported bullying while 33 percent reported they just ignore it rather than stand up to it.
”Ignoring is part of the reason we’re here, honestly,” Anderson Police Chief Larry Crenshaw said. “It’s not fixing the problem.”
Instead, he added, officials should help the kids “get a grasp” on what they need to do when a situation arises.
Thompson said the focus at this point is “how are we going to make sure kids have a voice to be heard and how are we going to make sure kids feel comfortable in walking up to Johnny, who’s being bullied, and walking him out of that situation.”
”(Anderson High School has) got to create that environment that says ‘I have permission to do this and I’ll be supported in doing it,’” Thompson said.
In the meantime, he added, administration is stepping up supervision in areas of bullying such as hallways and working to let kids know they can come stand near an adult if they’re being bullied.
Chambers, who founded the school group Equality United, said he’s been bullied himself multiple times already this year, oftentimes kids bumping into him purposefully or calling him names.
People make fun of what they don’t understand, he said, but if they just took the time to “get to know people and who they are, you might like them.
”We need to individualize it (the approach to bullying) and pinpoint what we need to do and, in lack of better words, hit it head-on,” he said.
With the rise of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, cyber-bullying has become a national problem that students at Anderson High School report as being the biggest issue. If it starts on school grounds, it will be disciplined, Thompson said.
Because technology is so popular among teens today, Maj. Brian Bell of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department suggested setting up a text messaging account for students to use in reporting incidents. It was one of multiple suggestions.
Anderson High Schools’ anti-bullying task force has drafted its belief statements and will continue to work to meet the Oct. 15 deadline.
Some snippets from Anderson High School's student bullying survey: 34 percent of students see an average of one to two bullying incidents per week 68 percent reported that they have not intervened in conflicts that could become physical 35 percent report cyber-bullying as the top form of bullying at AHS 83 percent have never reported bullying 60 percent said most of the bullying occurs on the buses 63 percent feel they know a person they can report bullying to 87 percent do not consider themselves bullies 32 percent said it isn't right to pass judgement on individuals because everyone is different