Dear BKW Community,
In light of recent public statements made regarding bullying in the BKW schools, I believe it important to clarify the record and share information with you. First and foremost, our mission each day is to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for all students. As a faculty, staff, and administration we take this work very seriously and devote a great deal of time and resources to achieve that end.
On April 27th, a parent bypassed visitor procedures at the elementary school and went to the breakfast line seeking out a student who he believed hit his son the previous day. The incident had not been reported to administration, and the parent did not seek to report it to administration, but rather took matters into his own hands. When the Principal became aware of the situation of the parent questioning students, she immediately addressed and resolved the issue of the previous day, and addressed the issue of the parent not following visitor procedures. The two students and the parents were satisfied with the outcome of the hitting issue. However, there was a claim by a student on the breakfast line that the parent “grabbed him and shook him.” Once again, this claim was investigated thoroughly and there was no evidence found to support the claim. This issue was reported in the local media. As far as the school is concerned, we addressed the conflict between the two boys and the parent’s violation of visitor procedures. With no evidence of physical contact in the last claim, we consider the matter closed.
On Monday evening, the parent who violated visitor procedures made public comments at the Board of Education meeting. In his comments, the claim was made that his son has been bullied for five years. References were made to the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and data reporting, leaving the impression that the district is not “doing anything” about bullying. As the Superintendent of Schools, I reject that idea. I have provided a power point presentation prepared by the State Education Department as a resource to clarify the stipulations of the DASA law, including definitions of bullying, conduct of investigations, determining material incidents, and appropriate consequences and actions. The slides also refer to positive prevention measures to be taken by schools. The district also maintains a DASA page on our website as a resource for parents, which includes information on bullying, ways you can speak with your child about bullying, and who to contact if you believe your child is being bullied. You can find that page here.
The first action of “doing something” when an incident is reported is to take the report seriously and investigating. Our administrators are trained annually to serve as the DASA officers for their respective buildings. They investigate every claim made. Investigations include viewing video where available, questioning students, questioning adults, and then using DASA definitions to make a determination as to whether the incident is indeed a bullying, harassment, intimidation, or menacing issue. The principle elements for determination include chronic and ongoing behavior, existence of an imbalance of power that is exploited, physical or emotional abuse that impacts attendance or performance, and targeting a person for their belonging to a protected class under the law- race, gender, ethnicity, religion, orientation, etc. Given these criteria, rarely is there a material finding of bullying, especially in an elementary setting. Most often, we find issues of conflict between individual students, impulsive and mean statements, and the behaviors, at times, are shared by both parties or within a group. Experience helps us to understand that the period of 9 years old to 14 years old can be an awkward time for youngsters as they try to develop effective social skills in a complex world.
As a school, we recognize the importance of prevention and have developed a thriving PBIS program in the elementary school to foster a culture of respect. When appropriate, peer mediation is an effective tool to helping students resolve differences of opinion. Our high school students use their training and skills to conduct peer mediation when appropriate. We focus on social/emotional development, as well as academic development. We also adhere to our Code of Conduct, and use consequences in a progressive fashion. We support our staff with training and we include parent voices in the process of helping students develop effective social skills. Our partnership with law enforcement is valuable when their involvement in a situation is necessary. Our counselors and support staff are continually engaged with our students, particularly those that may struggle with social relationships. Taken together, this systematic approach leads to a positive school climate.
In terms of reporting data to the State Education Department, the district has nothing to hide. We submit data that reflects the criteria outlined in the law. We are not concerned about how the data may positively or negatively reflect on the district. We just report the data.
We welcome conversation around this ongoing work. We must also keep in mind that we are working with children. They are a work in progress and together the adults must model the kind of skills that will help students successfully manage their relationships. Rather than judge and blame, let’s strive to help them see what they can become.
Thank you for your support.
Dr. Timothy Mundell
Superintendent of Schools