Last year, a series of high-profile bullying incidents rocked Natrona County School District. The incidents were disturbing in their own right, but equally concerning was the response from students and parents. Again and again, they noted that they, too, had been bullied while attending Casper schools. And in too many instances, they reported that someone in a position of authority did not take their situation seriously.
It might have been tempting for district and school officials to circle the wagons and ignore the criticism from the community and from this editorial board. They could have chosen to participate in the victim blaming that we all witnessed on social media, where posters minimized the problem and suggested bullying was just a part of growing up.
Instead, our education leaders used the moment to make substantive changes to how the district handles bullying. Those changes started with a review of the existing policy on bullying. From there, the definition of bullying was codified, and the district developed guidelines for how schools responded to various incidents – creating more consistency in the process.
The district also changed its policies on how major incidents of bullying are communicated to the public. Instead of blocking out as much information as possible, officials worked on ways to better share with the community what had happened and what the district was doing in response.
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Last week, the district announced that reports of bullying had fallen 20 percent last year. In the 2017-18 school year, 237 incidents of bullying were reported. Last year, there were 188. That’s nearly 50 fewer occasions when a child was picked on or hurt by a peer.
Those numbers should be taken with some grain of salt. They show the number of bullying incidents that were reported, not the number that actually occurred. If a teacher didn’t see something, or a child didn’t say something, the incident would not have made it into the district’s ledger book.
Still, the overall trend is in the right direction. It’s impossible to know exactly what role the policy changes played in the decrease, but it appears they’ve helped. If bullying is clearly defined, it’s easier for teachers and administrators to respond. If there are guidelines for discipline, it reduces the likelihood that an incident isn’t taken seriously by a dismissive educator. And if the process is more transparent, informed parents can be part of the solution, rather than mere bystanders.
A 20 percent reduction in bullying reports is something to be celebrated. Teachers, staff and administrators all deserve our congratulations. But there is a danger, when receiving good news, of complacency. Now is not the time to reduce the focus on bullying. Instead, administrators and educators should use this momentum to drive the numbers down further. A community-wide focus has shown that bullying doesn’t have to be something that our children have to endure.