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Lagattolla: Who cares about bullying? Everyone should

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 12:17 p.m. CDT

The anti-bullying campaign certainly includes awareness as a primary theme. Signs hang in hallways at schools urging students to treat each other with respect. And those on every side of the issue say it’s important that people 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 and their parents want to know why a situation persists after the problem has been reported.

In Geneva, Chauncey and Christine Messino said they pulled their daughter out of Harrison Street School because of a situation in which she was aggressively excluded from a group of students. They said they took their concerns to the principal, but the issue continued. The principal, Shonette Sims, said she was unable to comment on the situation, but the Messinos said they felt as though they weren’t taken seriously.

“It’s almost like she didn’t believe us,” Chauncey Messino said.

It’s an issue at the heart of the subject – referenced in bullying-themed books, in the “Bully” movie and by talking to parents and students who have complained of being bullied. There is a perception that school officials do not do enough to address the situation.

However, officials contacted at every district in the area – Batavia, Geneva, Kaneland and St. Charles – acknowledged bullying exists. At Geneva High School, for instance, counselor Cindy Kovach said the school has had a program on the subject. And Principal Tom Rogers said he understands he is a go-to official on the subject.

“I think as the instructional leader of the school, people are looking to the principal for leadership and guidance,” Rogers said.

In St. Charles, John Knewitz, the assistant superintendent for student services, said the district’s policy is kept up-to-date, and bullying incidents are documented. In Batavia, Brad Newkirk, the chief academic officer, said bullying is something that is taken seriously.

Lisa Fozio-Thielk, an assistant professor of psychology at Waubonsee Community College who has presented on the topic, said she hears complaints from parents that schools are not doing enough.

“I can’t speak per se about any individual school district, but I will say my experience is I don’t see that they’re hiding it, but maybe they’re not doing what some parents want them to do about it, when they want them to do it, and how,” Fozio-Thielk said. “They’ll say that schools aren’t doing everything they can. … Maybe schools aren’t informing people well enough and keeping that communication open.”

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 has experience pushing for change. She said she was bullied as a child, and her child has been bullied. She said it took years to get the situation with her child resolved.

DiMarco said bullying must be documented and school officials must be called, and there are forms that can be used for guidance in her book. 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.”

But DiMarco said the solution also does not involve making an enemy out of school officials. And fellow author Jodee Blanco, one of the most aggressive voices in the anti-bullying movement, said the goal ultimately should be getting the administration on the same page with those who are fighting for change.

Blanco, a Chicago area author who wrote two books, “Please Stop Laughing At Us” and “Please Stop Laughing at Me,” is known for presentations that sometimes upset teachers and administrators who attend. She said those who approach school officials about an issue 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 that the focus should not be on putting a superintendent or principal on the defensive. Instead,  those pushing for change should show compassion for all involved, including the bullies.

“If you want to help all of the kids involved, you will have more credibility,” she said.

• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at alagattolla@shawmedia.com.

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