Leigh Ann Reusche said members of the Knights Against Bullying group emerged from a meeting with Kaneland School District administrators last week confident that the subject would be on the agenda at an upcoming school board meeting.
That, she said, would allow board members to have a meaningful discussion about bullying problems at the school. There could be a talk about policies. The Knights Against Bullying introduced five points that members want implemented, and that will be a step forward in the quest.
And at this point, Reusche said, discussion is positive, geared toward finding solutions. If the board focuses on that, she said, the school district can work with the group.
“If the board rejects this,” she said. “Then we will have a different conversation.”
Group members showed up in force last month when the district opted to put together a forum before its regularly scheduled board meeting at Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove. A smaller crowd of group members showed up at the most recent meeting, at which five points were laid out during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I think that they’ve heard us,” Reusche said. “I think maybe they didn’t realize how much this weighs on families in our community. I don’t think they realized that as much as they do now. It’s clearly a priority for them. They deal with it every day. For families and our community, the intolerance and the hate people have can be just like poison. It’s not to say they didn’t recognize it, but maybe they didn’t recognize the full impact it had on the rest of us.”
Superintendent Jeff Schuler said the conversation at the recent meeting “was good, from my perspective.”
“It was productive,” Schuler said. “It was recognizing we are working as a team.”
The group’s five recommendations are:
• Make bullying prevention a priority. The group asks school officials “to take a leadership role,” with the first step being to “explicitly state your commitment in the form of a board resolution.”
• Assign a prevention coordinator. Dedicate one person to work throughout the district to help realize its commitment. It urges district leaders not to “simply make this an add-on to staff’s already busy schedule.”
• Gather a task force. The group stresses that “in order for any initiative to be realized, it must be embraced by all involved.” It urges the district’s leaders to reach out to parents for feedback and empower students to take a stand and get involved.
• Develop a districtwide plan. It says “the district currently has the pieces to a plan, but not a stated, cohesive plan with goals and timelines attached to performance measures.” It calls for measurable goals with reasonable timelines.
• Implement and evaluate. It asks whether the current plan is reaching all of its stakeholders and whether it encourages dialogue and community building.
In the meantime, the district has implemented an anti-bullying program called “Stop, Walk, Talk.” The program instructs students who are bullied to make a direct request to stop. Then, they are to walk away from the situation to eliminate, reduce or deflect verbal or physical harassment or bullying. Finally, they will talk, or report the information to an adult, if the other two methods have not stopped the behavior.
Renee Dee, a Girl Scout leader in Sugar Grove, said she was impressed recently that girls in the troop were aware of the “Stop, Walk, Talk” program.
“We said to the girls, if you feel that you or your friends are being bullied, what do you do?” said Dee, who said she was at the meeting with fellow troop leader Amy Nitsche. “At least half of them went, ‘Stop, Walk, Talk.’ … We were dumbfounded. It wasn’t just one or two, it was seven or eight of them.”
Dee said she felt the girls were benefiting from instruction in that area, something she felt she didn’t have as a kid.
“They very proudly told us what ‘Stop, Walk, Talk’ was,” she said.
But while there might be progress in those areas, some say bullying situations involving their families are continuing. Schuler said officials have had more conversations with parents because the topic is receiving public attention. But those who say their situations are unresolved say programs such as “Stop, Walk, Talk” don’t solve their problems.
“I think as with any program, service or any learning opportunity we have in buildings, there are always going to be people who have a little different perspective. … Not everybody is going to necessarily universally agree that it is the right thing to do,” said Schuler, adding decisions are made based on research and feedback and “that continues to be the basis on which we continue to make decisions. There are some who might not fully agree with what we’re doing.”
• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.