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Tracing cause, cure for bullying

When you trace the background of bullies, there are very strong indications that they were bullying victims at one time, School District 833 Superintendent Mark Porter told a community group.

Porter and Woodbury Director of Public Safety Lee Vague discussed bullying and keeping kids safe in schools during a Woodbury Rotary Club meeting last week at the Eagle Valley Golf Course.

There is no districtwide policy regarding bullying, other than it must be reported to adults by victims and witnesses.

"Each school must decide," Porter said. "Our schools vary widely and you can't sit at the top of the mountain and dictate."

The most challenging age group is at middle schools, where misbehavior takes place during passing times because students are moving around in a building with 1,200 students, a very different climate than in elementary school, Porter said.

Schools are constantly educating kids on what bullying is, Porter said.

There was a situation where several boys called a Jewish boy a Nazi. It was not reported by the victim but witnessed by a peer.

Porter said he is sure that the two bullies, who were reprimanded, didn't fully realize the hateful nature of what they said or how much it would hurt anyone of the Jewish faith.

Peer reporting is very important. "We need to affirm students that they are doing the right thing by telling someone," Porter said. "Victims can become perpetrators."

When parents are told their children have been bullying other students, they often deny it or tell schools they are intruding on privacy.

Porter said the district has a good working relationship with its police departments when it comes to creating a safe student environment.

Bullying behavior may be linked to TV and video game exposure. Kids have too much "screen time" in front of television sets, computers and video games, said Vague, a 22-year police department veteran.

"I don't care if some people don't like it," he said, but a police officer's job is to ask tough questions of juvenile behavior.

School shooting tragedies "had huge warnings," he said. The perpetrators talked about hurting people.

Everyone is in control of what happens in their schools and can help create a safe environment, according to Vague.

Some parents tell police they can't enter their children's rooms because it would invade their privacy. "We can't let kids build walls around themselves," he said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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