Isle schools must fight bullying, panel says
STORY SUMMARY »
Telling stories of public school students teased for being overweight, transgendered or from foreign countries, a committee of educators and consultants says Hawaii needs better controls to fight bullying on campuses.
A 95-page report sent to the state Department of Education by the Safe Schools Community Advisory Committee recommends schools adopt anti-bullying programs by 2010, give annual training for all employees about harassment and discrimination, and require students to attend assemblies to discuss the problem.
The group found bullying is "a common occurrence in schools" and that administrators, staff and teachers "may permit or allow" harassment to happen.
Students at risk
Among the findings by the Safe Schools Community Advisory Committee:
» Nearly 7 percent of middle school and high school students were afraid to go to school at least once a month because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to class.
» Sixteen percent of middle school students and 10 percent of high-schoolers fought at school one or more times a year.
» Thirty-six percent of middle school and 28 percent of high school students reported having their belongings stolen or deliberately damaged at school at least once a year.
FULL STORY »
Hawaii public schools should adopt a systemwide anti-bullying program by 2010 and provide annual harassment and discrimination training to employees who may be ignoring student complaints, according to a group of educators and consultants.
Also, under recommendations by a Safe Schools Community Advisory Committee, the state Department of Education needs to hire staff to investigate, respond and document cases of students being teased because of weight, looks, economic status, race, religion, national origin and sexual orientation.
More than half of middle school students and 44 percent of high-schoolers in the state reported being bullied by their peers at least once a year, according to the 2005 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. Bullying increases the risk of drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression and suicide, and may lead children to flunk school or become angry at their parents, according to the 23-person Safe Schools committee.
The group of education officials, Board of Education members and representatives from the University of Hawaii and state and private agencies has met monthly since March 2005 to study school bullying and fighting. It was created amid concerns raised by independent child support organizations who were getting visits from bullied public school students, officials said.
With nearly 180,000 students, the public system lacks uniform guidelines for administrators to report and respond to bullying on their campuses, making it hard to know the extent of the problem and whether cases are being properly managed.
"There were probably a lot of unreported incidents happening at the schools, and these are people in private practices who were probably seeing some of these students," said committee member Jean Nakasato, an educational specialist with the Education Department's student support section. "There were concerns raised by community members as to what is happening at the schools to support these students."
She said education officials scheduled a meeting next month with Superintendent Pat Hamamoto to discuss the committee's 95-page report. It lists several measures to stop and prevent bullying on campuses, noting that "harassment is a common occurrence in schools" and that bullies sometimes "face little or no repercussions for their actions."
One recent case involved a 16-year-old girl who moved to Hawaii from the Philippines and, after being constantly teased for her accent, began failing classes because she was not participating in discussions or giving oral reports at an Oahu high school, according to the committee's report. It said "her teacher never intervened even once to stop the harassment, and sometimes smiled when the boys made fun of her."
Under the plan, which does not estimate the cost of implementing the recommendations, the DOE would have to release statements on how each case was handled and ask job applicants about how they would keep campuses safe.
Students would attend mandatory assemblies each year to discuss bullying and learn how to file complaints, and parents would be given presentations and workshops on the issue. Another suggestion is to create incentives like awards for students, parents and schools raising awareness about the problem and combating it with effective programs.
"We have to make sure that trainings are going to happen within each complex at each school yearly," said Camaron Miyamoto, director of UH's student services office who helped write the report. "As there is new faculty and staff hired, they'll be informed of policies, procedures and the rights of students."
School board member Garrett Toguchi said the department could encourage or require schools to have student peer groups where bullying victims reluctant to speak to administrators could share their stories.
However, he said the department should ensure schools have money to implement new polices, predicting that if principals are given the option to run programs with limited funds, they would likely choose to spend resources on things like teachers and textbooks.
"If it's something we think is needed, perhaps we should just mandate that these things should be done and that the funding should be separate from the Weighted Student Formula," Toguchi said.
Committee members stressed during a presentation to the school board that they don't want money "to be a barrier" to making schools safe, said Breene Harimoto, a school board member with the committee.
"Realizing that some of it may cost money, we may need to make a request for the Legislature or maybe just prioritize some of our own money," he said.