Bullying in Iowa: A U.S. Senate Hearing, Part 2

Linda Calbom: Thank you very
much, Mr. Chairman and thank you for having us here today to talk
about the results of our work and that study which you and
other members of the committee requested.
As you well know and mentioned in your statement millions of
American youths are subjected to bullying each year and it is all
across the country. While much is being done to
address this growing epidemic there continues to be a need for
more information about legal and practical approaches to
combating bullying. In this context you asked us to
address the following questions. First, what is known about the
prevalence of school bullying and its effects on the victims?
Second, the approaches that selected states and local school
districts are taking to combat school bullying.
Third, the legal options federal and state governments have in
place when bullying leads to allegations of discrimination.
And finally, how the key federal agencies, including education,
are coordinating their efforts to combat bullying.
As you mentioned we did just release our report.
It is entitled “School Bullying”.
Extent of legal protections for vulnerable groups needs to be
more fully assessed and I think there was some copies made
available of the report here. In this report we address the
questions I just mentioned and we make recommendations to the
Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice,
who are all working on this issue together, to help address
the issues that we identified in our work.
Today I’m just going to very briefly sum up our findings and
the recommendations in that report.
In addressing your first question we found that bullying
is indeed widespread impacting somewhere between 20% and 28% of
youth and that it has, as you said, long-lasting and sometimes
very detrimental effects on victims.
However, data on who is being bullied and how often is limited
and sometimes conflicting due to inconsistent definitions and
demographic information collecting in national surveys
on school bullying. Federal agencies are currently
working on developing a uniform definition of bullying but have
not yet decided whether to expand the type of demographic
information gathered in their surveys.
Because of this we included a recommendation in our report
that the three agencies work together to develop information
in future surveys on the extent that youth and various
vulnerable groups are in fact being bullied.
Regarding the approaches that states and school districts are
taking to combat bullying we found that all eight states that
we selected for review had enacted anti-bullying laws and
all of the six school districts we reviewed had established
anti-bullying policies and procedures.
However, the states, as the Secretary just mentioned, the
states all varied in how they define bullying, who they
protected and what they required the schools to do to address
bullying. The six school districts we
talked to told us about a range of different approaches they
take to tackle bullying including several had adoption
of a framework for prevention oriented, a prevention oriented
framework that is geared towards improving overall behavior in
schools and several schools also sponsored events such as
Rachel’s Challenge and Ryan’s Story that are geared towards
promoting a positive overall culture in the school that can
also help prevent bullying. As far as the legal options when
bullying leads to allegations of discrimination, we found that
federal and state civil rights laws offer some protections but
that vulnerable groups are not always covered, as was mentioned
earlier. For example, federal agencies
lack jurisdiction under civil rights statutes to pursue
discrimination cases based solely on socioeconomic status
or sexual orientation, as you were talking about earlier.
And the civil rights laws in the eight states we reviewed, while
they often went beyond the protections afforded at the
federal level, were mixed as to what classes of individuals were
protected. Therefore the extent of
protections available under civil rights laws for bullying
victims can literally depend on the state that they live in.
And finally, Mr. Chairman, we found that despite all the good
coordination efforts by education, HHS and justice to
carry out research and provide information to the public on
bullying there has not been information gathered on state
civil rights laws as they relate to bullying.
This information is key to understanding where there may be
gaps in civil rights protections for students who are bullied
which is why we recommended that education do a one-time
compilation of state civil rights laws and procedures.
Our recommended analysis of these legal gaps paired with
additional demographic information on the frequency of
bullying of vulnerable groups would be instrumental in helping
policy makers determine whether additional actions are needed to
protect vulnerable groups who are most often the target of
school bullying. Penny Bisignano: Thank you,
Emily. As you were speaking I thought
about the calls that we receive at the Department of Education
from parents and students about what they are experiencing and
how difficult this is. I heard the term relentless and
I felt so alone and we hear that and it is so powerful.
It is something that we really need to work on every single day
and that is really my job at the Department of Education.
I’m really honored to be here today, Senator Harkin, and thank
you everyone for the opportunity.
I would really like to focus on three areas and be as brief as I
can. We talked about the definition
of bullying and how challenging that is that we don’t have
perhaps a federal definition although we do appreciate at the
stopbullying.gov site that we do have and follow a definition
that helps us in our work. And that is that bullying is
really unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged
children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
The behavior is repeated –I think about relentless, the
repeated things, Emily, that you talked about — and has the
potential to be repeated over time.
Bullying includes actions like making threats, spreading rumors
— and often we think that is not serious but it is very
serious — attacking someone physically or verbally and
exclusion. Very often it begins with
exclusion. In elementary school we see that
as one of the strategies to help to make kids feel left out.
Again, and I think you mentioned this, Senator Harkin, the
researcher and really father of bullying prevention, Dan Olweus
from Norway says, “bullying is pure abuse”.
And I think we need to really pay attention to the fact that
this is an abusive behavior, it is an act of violence.
What we can do and what we know is encouraging to us is that we
really have a guideline around some best practices.
I’d like to just have us hear those.
There are really ten that guide us.
One, in a school that we need to focus on the social environment
of the school. And that means addressing the
climate, the climate in which our kids come there every day to
learn. Number two is to assess the
nature and extent of bullying. Often we don’t ask, we say we
don’t have bullying here but unless we’re really surveying
our students and now we know that we need to ask parents and
families and staff as well so that we have data to make good
decisions. We need to get support from the
adults in the environment. Everybody needs to be engaged in
this. It’s not something that one
teacher can do or one staff member, it’s not something that
happens with just a few but we need everybody engaged.
There also needs to be a group that shepherds the work.
If we’re going to address bullying we need those who are
passionate, have it in their heart to do this and that should
include parents and students as well as community.
It’s so critical, and I heard this earlier, to train all of
the adults in the school around bullying prevention, getting
every body to join — when I hear Emily’s story I think we
all need to join so that we can understand what this is, the
harm that is caused. We need to create and enforce
very specific rules to address bullying, make sure that we’re
addressing this in classrooms, increase our supervision and
intervene consistently and appropriately.
70% of teachers in a survey we know believed that they
intervened almost always while students, 25% of students
believed that the teachers intervened almost always.
So there’s a real discrepancy in our perceptions.
And then it all has to continue over time.
What we’re doing in Iowa, very quickly, is that we have been
leaders in bullying prevention since 2004 even before our law
was passed in 2007. We intentionally have two
nationally certified trainers around bullying prevention and
intervention in every Area Education Agency and in with our
Safe and Supportive Schools grant there is someone who is
assigned to each one of those schools to provide that.
We have hosted ICN sessions, workshops and webinars, continue
to do that. We have ongoing guidance from
our department attorney, Carol Greta.
And, again, through the grant we have provided this last spring
our first full day intake and investigator training across the
state of Iowa. We had 400 educators participate
in that. We will continue that work.
WE know that when somebody tells you that something has happened
we need to pay attention to that.
We are partnering with Iowa State Extension and Outreach
around and in youth engagement for each one of our grant
schools so we have youth teams that are really there to help us
really to understand and know what we can do to address
bullying and to improve the climate overall.
That is really what that is about.
We have also partnered with the Iowa Pride Network in the Safe
School Certification Program which includes both an audit of
the Iowa Bullying Law so that schools are meeting the
components of the law and then elements where addressing
bullying more comprehensively in each of our schools.
In the fall we will launch at the Department of Education a
refined data collection system from every school in the state
of Iowa which will give us much more information about all those
categories that are in our Iowa law of students who may be
bullied. And just one consideration in
closing for thinking about the future — all areas that support
student learning we call that learning supports in Iowa and
they need to receive the same level of priority in legislation
and funding as reading, math and other academics.
School climate has a significant impact on a child and student’s
ability to learn. It is an important to know if a
student is safe as it is to know his or her achievement scores.
Thank you. Paul Gausman: Thank you, Senator
and thank you for hosting this event.
I’m going to begin — Penny noticed that Emily used the word
relentless. The word that struck me, Emily,
when you used it over and over again was cool.
You weren’t cool enough. You said that I think four or
five times. I am here as the superintendent
of schools from Sioux City, Iowa to introduce you to one of our
coolest graduates we’ve ever had.
She’s also a hero as far as I’m concerned.
But I do want to acknowledge to her that this community in one
way or another failed you and I’m certainly sorry about that.
Senator, as you know, we’ve had a twelve year partnership with
the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, the Waitt Institute
was created by the founder of Gateway Computers.
The Waitt Foundation has partnered with our district to
provide funding and curriculum and training around the area of
bullying and violence in schools.
We were originally approached by our partners as the Waitt
Institute recently to participate in a national
documentary on bullying in the American schools and our
participation was to highlight some of the progressive programs
and significant success of outworks on bullying in our
schools. You see, Senator, we became
visible on a national stage because we were the first school
district in the nation to create and implement a workplace bully
prevention program for our staff members.
We believe that in order to expect the best behavior from
our students we must make certain that we have policies
and procedures in place to assure that our adults are also
modeling the most positive behavior possible.
I want to be clear though that the documentary filmmakers of
this national film now titled “Bully” were quite honest with
us that they would also like to spend some time in our district
looking for a specific student or situation where they could
seethe reality of bullying from the perspective of an individual
who was bullied. And while we’re not particularly
proud of all that is presented in the documentary we do
celebrate that our district has some of the most progressive
bully prevention programs available today yet we
acknowledge that that work of art shows you, and I know you
watched that recently, some of our dirty laundry, if you will,
that related to the challenges of bullying in American schools.
I believe that the end result of that documentary is a work of
art that is compelling and emotionally challenging.
I’m proud of our school board for stepping forward and having
the courage to engage the national discourse on bullying,
the most important topic of our day.
We do continue to believe in the importance of community and
national dialogue on the challenges of bullying.
Our participation in this documentary has created some of
the most rich and most meaningful discussion in our own
community about what the entirety of the community can do
to assist and support schools in our efforts to prevent bullying.
You see that is our perspective, Senator, that bullying is best
defeated by prevention, not by reaction.
Many of the programmatic solutions — and I want to be
clear, I think I have now heard from just about every company in
the nation selling an anti-bullying product — most of
those products deal with how to react to, how to respond to
bullying. Our district, our board of
education and our community continue to work toward the
prevention of bullying-like circumstances.
We have consistently said that we are not unique because we
have bullying in our schools but we do want to become unique by
being the school district that makes a difference.
You see, bullying is not specific to schools.
Bullying is all around us. It is visible in shopping malls,
places of worship, sporting events, community events, etc.
Research tells us that only about 25%to 50% of children who
were bullied actually tell an adult about the incidents and we
have certainly witnessed that low level reporting in our
schools. We have a challenge of finding
ways to have students feel safe and comfortable reporting those
instances to us. We have now, as an example, one
of the ways that we have discovered that we can find
bullying without even the reports is it became apparent to
us that we needed high quality audio and video systems on each
of our buses. We implemented brand new systems
in our buses last year, we have about 70 buses.
And we now have staff members who not only drive the bus,
Senator, they spend time during the day watching sample footage
from each of those systems looking for challenges.
We have also now fully implemented some of the most
progressive curriculum in the area of bully prevention
education. Thank you to the Safe and
Supportive Schools grants. The curriculum that we have is
entitled, “Second Step”, for students in K-8, a program where
older high school students work with younger high school
students titled “Mentors and Violence Prevention” and a
program in after-school activities titled “Coaching Boys
into Men”. That is a program where we work
with students to understand why they may be coached to be
assertive or aggressive on a field of play but that same
level of assertive or aggressive behavior may not be acceptable
in other areas of their lives. We have also made changes to our
school board policies regarding bullying, hazing and harassment
and those policies are not just documents, they are action items
for us in our district. Finally, I would like to point
out that I believe our biggest challenge of the day very likely
deals with cyber bullying, the use of electronic devices and
gadgets, the Internet to bully one another as a result of the
anonymity offered or the lack of face-time that gives bullies the
opportunity to thrive. Senator, I encourage you to
consider the many examples that are presented today but don’t
stop just as the compelling nature of those immediate
examples. Consider this as it truly is, an
epidemic. It is bigger than a single
person, it’s bigger than a single staff member or a school
building or a school district. It is our culture and our
culture must change. I regret that any student in any
school district has a less than positive experience as a part of
their education. I acknowledge that we in the
Sioux City Community School District are, like many others,
we’re a district of continuous improvement.
We know that we must study that data, we must listen to our
customers and our constituents and we must create meaningful
change for the future. Thank you.
Ellen Reilly: Thank you very much.
I really appreciate being asked to be here today.
In 2008 I was working for Davenport schools, I had only
been there for a couple of years and after the legislation was
passed in Iowa in 2007, the anti-bullying legislation I
became what I later learned was called annoying to
administrators in our district because I was persistent in
implementing an anti-bullying program because you see even
though people know that bullying happens and that educators know
it happens it seems to be sometimes that thing that we
push aside, it’s not easy to address, it is difficult, as a
matter of fact, especially at a systemic level.
So now here we are in 2012 and Davenport schools has
implemented the Olweus anti-bullying program in all 30
of our buildings K-12. It was a very interesting
process to do and not every building is implementing at the
same level. We have various levels of
implementation and that is evidenced by how schools respond
to bullying. That is probably the best way to
look at it. And also by our survey data
which we do survey on an annual basis.
I have three points that I’d like to address specifically
today. One, dealing with bullying is a
complicated process. Two, zero tolerance is not
effective. And three, to truly address
bullying in schools we must include proper training and
ongoing support to teachers, administrators and others who
work with children. And I think we have heard that
from Penny as well. In talking about the Olweus
anti-bullying program which I’m just going to refer to it as
Olweus now, it is not a curriculum, it’s not a lesson
that is taught in a classroom, it’s a whole school approach.
It’s systems change and it is looking at systems change from
four different levels, that being school-wide, in the
classroom, on an individual level and at the community
level. At the core of Olweus here are
four anti-bullying rules. I refer to them as the speed
limit. Just because the speed limit is
posted doesn’t mean you’re going to follow it but boy when you
see the police officer in his car you slow down.
So I refer to the rules as the speed limit in our district.
One, we will not bully others. Two, we will help others who are
bullied. Three, we will include those who
are easily left out. And four, when we know someone
is being bullied we’ll tell an adult at school and an adult at
home and expect them to do something about it.
In Davenport we post those rules throughout the school and in
every classroom. They are even posted at our
football stadium and around local areas where students that
attend our schools also go in the community and participate in
youth events. Our community is very engaged in
our anti-bullying program. We share this information with
parents on how we’re going to handle bullying in our schools,
we give it to them at conferences, in newsletters,
it’s on our website. We survey our students on an
annual basis and that information is reviewed and then
put together in a trend report so that parents, teachers and
students can see how we’re doing in the area of bullying
prevention. I can say that since we
implemented — our first implementation school was 2008
— we have seen a decrease in the number of bullying incidents
that are being — in the number of students who are reporting
being bullied. We have seen an increase in the
number of incidents being reported which we wanted to see.
We want students to report it when it is happening.
We have seen an increase in students reporting that adults
intervene when they see bullying and we’ve also seen an increase
in the number of students who intervene and try to support
their peers when they are being bullied.
Davenport also started the Be Bully Smart campaign and that is
a grassroots community awareness campaign on bullying that we
have engaged our police department, our park and recs
department, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, we have trained their
staff and then they in turn are able to endorse and support our
program and anti-bullying in the community.
Zero tolerance is not effective. And I want to read here that the
definition of zero tolerance is that it is usually bringing the
maximum punishment for every transgression.
And the best approach to managing consequences for
bullying situations, which is what I deal with on a regular
basis, is to have someone who is well trained in best practices
address the situation by thoughtfully discussing the
incident and issuing appropriate progressive consequences that
fit the circumstance and severity of the bullying.
Consequences, especially in bullying situation, should
teach, not destroy. And finally, to address bullying
in schools we do need to provide training.
We need to be able to accurately identify bullying and I have
heard the definition and Penny brought up the definition from
Dr. Dan Olweus. Our goal is to ensure that
students are safe if they experience bullying.
This can include parent conferences, safety plans,
changes to schedules, one-to-one supervision.
We do whatever we can to make sure students are safe because
the reality is bullying is never going to go away.
We need to do prevention efforts to reduce it and then we need to
be able to reduce the negative impact on students.
And I want to make a final statement regarding our LGBT
population and that I believe that it is critical that we have
gay-straight alliances in every middle and high school.
I would like to see that happen, I’d like to see it happen in
Iowa and I would like to see it happen on a national basis
because gay-straight alliances have the same goals that Olweus
has and that is to create safe environments in schools, to
educate the school community about homophobia, transphobia,
gender identity and other sexual oriented issues and then fight
discrimination, harassment and violence in schools.
I believe that when a student enters secondary school, middle
school and high school that a GSA should have the same
importance as French club, the debate team, the football team
or any other school group that exists.
It should have the same recognition and the same value.
Thank you.