Some students in the Corning-Painted Post School District feel that their concerns about bullying aren’t being taken seriously.
“I think bullies continue doing stuff because punishments are really nothing,” one middle school student said in response to a recent survey. “There is no lasting damage. They go to a room, make a plan, and then never follow it.”
The survey was commissioned by the district and organized by Margie Lawlor of the Satori Group.
“There are no punishments,” another middle schooler said. “They go up to ISP, lie to teachers, come back down, and hurt more people.”
Superintendent Mike Ginalski said while he’s listening and taking into account all of those concerns from middle schoolers, they may not understand the long-term strategy required to respond effectively to bullying.
“The student commits the offense, they get the consequence and we move on,” Ginalski said. “That’s not always effective in this area.”
He outlined the process that’s generally undertaken when there’s an incident or complaint of bullying.
“There’s always the investigation, on both sides,” Ginalski said. “Sometimes there will be evidence, which is key. (There are) calls home to both families.”
In reference to the student who said bullies “go to a room, make a plan, and then never follow it,” Ginalski said the “plan” is part of a program of long-term behavior modification.
“The middle school has made a move to their response-based intervention program, which is more of a problem-solving program. Forcing the students to go through a really serious problem-solving process,” he said.
He said the work of dealing with bullying is helped by cooperation with parents — but that’s not always forthcoming.
“We need help from the homefront. You have to enforce your policies and communicate effectively with parents to try to decrease the behavior,” Ginalski said. “The difficulty that we have is that oftentimes the first thing that will be said back to us is ‘Where’s your proof?’”
He said in cases of social media bullying, which is the dominant issue now, recording the incident can make enforcement of policies much easier.
“Particularly in terms of social media, we need screen shots,” Ginalski said. “Anything outside of school that influences school behavior, we can apply consequences under New York state law.”
He said some of the frustration evident in the comments from middle schoolers in the survey may come from a feeling that the injury to them isn’t being fully acknowledged.
“The administrators are the first line of defense in that regard, and also guidance and social workers as well. They know who those students are (that are repeated victims of bullying),” Ginalski said. “The administrators I think do a good job of sharing with the victim what is happening to the accused.”
“People shouldn’t think that we’re naive” about the severity of the issue, he added.
“I think educators are much more confident dealing with those issues than in the past,” Ginalski said. “More aware, and also more aware of the long-term consequences.”
But he said ultimately, the issue is the rest of the world’s problems, and particularly a mean-spirited internet culture, “trickling down” to students.
“Kids mirror what they see in society,” Ginalski said.
While victims of bullying in previous generations might have had a safe space at home or among a select group of friends, “the difference in this era is that kids can’t get away from it,” he said.
Going forward, he said district plans to implement an anonymous reporting program, to limit the issue of students not reporting incidents out of fear of reprisal.
They’re also considering a more robust character education program at the elementary level.
And Ginalski said they’ll continue to take a deep look into the data coming particularly from the middle school to see if the programs they’ve implemented are working.
“If there’s a decrease in disciplinary referrals at the middle school, is that because behavior is better, or because teachers are not referring students the way they used to? I think that’s how you take an honest look at the program and see if it’s successful,” he said.