Parents ask Northgate to look at bullying

Parents and grandparents concerned that bullying is not being adequately addressed by the Northgate School District have asked the administration and school board to take a “zero tolerance” approach to the problem that has plagued schools probably as long as they have existed.

The addition of electronic means of bullying not only has given bullies new weapons, but also has increased awareness of the problem and its potential consequences. Nearly every state in the U.S. now has laws concerning bullying. In Pennsylvania there are numerous statutes that can be applied in the case of bullying, but one law that directly addresses the educational setting. The Safe Schools Act not only defines bullying, but requires school districts to regularly update bullying policies, provide training programs for teachers and administrators, implement anti-bullying programs, and report incidents of bullying along with any other crimes that may occur in the school.

Two women have organized a social media group to address what they say is a major problem in the district's schools. Sue Vesch told the school board that numerous incidents have occurred, particularly at Avalon Elementary, and that the bullies are not being disciplined.

Another parent agreed. “Things are happening and being swept under the rug.

According to Northgate's official records, bullying really isn't a major disciplinary problem. According to superintendent Dr. Caroline Johns, the district reported only two incidents classified as bullying in 2015-16, none in 2016-17, and six in the 2017-18 school year.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nationally, 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying and 20 percent of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying. Other sources estimate that as many as 60 percent of bullying is never reported.

There also may be a problem in accurately identifying what behavior constitutes bullying, as opposed to just a kid being mean. The key element of bullying is an imbalance, real or perceived, in social power or standing that is used to exclude the victim from a particular group.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education defines bullying as: “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Psychologists have defined bullying as follows: “Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict.”
Pennsylvania anti-bullying laws include the following definitions of bullying and cyberbullying, which are included in Northgate's anti-bullying policy:

Bullying shall mean an intentional electronic, written, verbal or physical act, or a series of acts: directed at another student or students; which occurs in a school setting; that is severe, persistent or pervasive; and that has the effect of doing any of the following: substantially interfering with a student's education; creating a threatening environment; or substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school; and “school setting” shall mean in the school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop or at any activity sponsored, supervised or sanctioned by the school.

The Northgate School District regularly incorporates the concepts of “Random Acts of Kindness” and “Be the Nice Kid” into educational programs, particularly at the grade school level, which is one of the things identified as helping to reduce bullying. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the state's Office for Safe Schools have established an extensive program to help educators, parents and students address the issue of bullying. The state even operates a hotline for parents and students, which can be accessed by calling 1-866-716-0424.

Johns has agreed to work with Northgate parents concerned about bullying.