Kaneland School Superintendent Jeff Schuler said he understands there are people upset about District 302 policies addressing bullying. He said he accepts the criticism, and a recent rewrite of the district’s policy suggests officials saw issues that needed to be addressed, too.
But as district officials heard from a parent group at a school board meeting this week, Schuler said he was upset after coming across comments posted on a Facebook page for the group, Knights Against Bullying. Some suggested administrators – and, in particular, Schuler – didn’t care about the bullied students.
“It does bother me,” Schuler said. “I just don’t know a lot of people who I’ve come into contact with in the field of education who would say, ‘I got into this business not caring about kids.’ One of the reasons I do react so strongly is that it’s like a challenge, right to my core value.
“I absolutely would expect that there may be times where somebody might say, ‘Your prevention efforts are not enough.’ … That sort of discussion is productive, and I can appreciate it. But when the feedback of criticism comes right back to you, ‘You don’t care about this,’ then it’s painful to hear, and it’s patently untrue.”
It is, however, a concern that is voiced. Those on every side of the issue say that it’s important that those who are bullied speak up. School administrators say they can’t fix a problem if they don’t know it exists. But those who have experienced bullying want to know why a situation persists years after the problem has been reported.
Members of the Knights Against Bullying group showed up in force at Monday’s Kaneland School Board meeting. Leigh Ann Reusche read a letter in which she said the group’s members are committed to working with the school district, but members said they also wanted to be taken seriously. One of the letter’s points was that school officials “approach this with as much interest and importance as you place on passing the next tax referendum.”
A desire to work with officials seems to put everything on the right track. Jodee Blanco, a Chicago-area author who wrote two books, “Please Stop Laughing At Us” and “Please Stop Laughing at Me,” is known for emotional presentations that sometimes upset teachers and administrators who attend. Showing up as a group can have a positive effect, she said. She said such groups fighting for change must identify what they hope to achieve.
“The biggest mistake is that they become so obsessed that the bullies get punished that they lose sight of everything else,” Blanco said, adding the focus should not be on putting a superintendent or principal on the defensive. Instead, such movements should be about standing together and showing compassion for all involved, including the bullies.
Jacqui Marchese DiMarco, a Glen Ellyn resident who co-wrote “When Your Child is Being Bullied: Real Solutions for Parents, Educators and Other Professionals,” said she, too, has experience pushing for change. DiMarco said bullying must be documented and school officials must be called. She also said it’s important to always have a next date scheduled with an official for follow-up.
“A lot of times, the parent assumes that the school is going to take care of it,” DiMarco said. “And the school will talk to ‘Suzie’ and say, ‘Don’t do that again,’ and then there is that casual solution.”
Schuler said the district hasn’t ignored bullying reports. He said that a parent might identify a situation as bullying, but officials might still be looking into it, determining whether it’s a repeated issue or whether there was malicious intent. But he said district officials have done their best to address the topic.
“Any of the [Facebook page] posts that would suggest that our administration is either burying our heads on this issue or don’t care about this issue or we’re trying to keep it hidden from the public … that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” he said. “I don’t think you can introduce a new handbook and say it any more publicly than standing up at a board meeting and saying, ‘Clearly, this is an issue that we’ve needed to focus on.’
“We’re not going to make a difference in bullying unless we are partnering as a community. If it does truly become any sort of finger-pointing issue, that we care more about this than you do, that’s not going to work. … It’s only going to work if we both say we are in this for the same thing.”
• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.