Letter: Bullying must stop in Unionville-Chadds Ford

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To The Editor:

Letters1The public meeting of the UCF School Board last Tuesday started with a wonderful announcement that 12 of our students had qualified as National Merit finalists.

This joy quickly faded to disgust when a father of a sixth grade student legally attending Patton Middle School rose to address the Board about the bullying his son has experienced for sometime with no corrective action being taking by the District. While he and his wife have separated, he made the effort to come from outside the district to address this on-going problem.

It was personally sickening to listen to his speech. He left more detailed information with each Board member.

It is clear that our district’s current bullying policy needs to be immediately reviewed, probably drastically improved, and clear punishments added based on the extent of the bullying. This should be the NUMBER ONE priority for the district.

Additionally, all students from K thru 12 need to be educated about bullying and its affects on their classmates and on themselves. Our workforce from part-time employees up to and including the Superintendent need to also be educated. These educational programs will vary based on the audience to which they are provided.

They should also be repeated on a schedule similar to fire drills.

Bullying must be eliminated immediately in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.

 

Bruce B. Yelton

Pocopson

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Tags: bullying, schools, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District
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25 Responses

  1. In the TE School District, our elementary and middle schools use the research based on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program as the foundation for creating a safe environment for children.

    Class meetings are an integral part of the program. In the middle schools, class meetings are called HERO meetings, which is an acronym that stands for Honesty, Empathy, Respect, and Open-mindness. Students meet in groups on selected Fridays and are presented with interactive and age-appropriate material about how they can decrease and prevent bullying in their school.

    For additional info visit:http://www.clemson.edu

    This would be a good place investment dollars would pay off for students and tax payers.

    • Unionville-Chadds Ford also uses Olweus and does have both process and methods — although imperfect — for addressing bullying. Work is ongoing to improve those processes. But I’m not sure that there is a perfect method for dealing with it.

      There are too many variables — some of the behavior is enabled by parents (which is obviously beyond the control of the school district), some of whom themselves are prone to bullying behavior. There are limits, in my opinion. Everything possible should be done, granted, but this is a wider societal issue.

      As a father, I generally think it is my job to work with my kids to learn to cope with this sort of behavior. We speak often about strategies for dealing with this issue, and using operant conditioning to make the bullying behavior less attractive and satisfying to the perpetrator. Kids need to learn to deal with it.

      It certainly will — and does — happen among adults. I deal with it professionally on a regular basis.

      In my case — I’m a little bit like the character Mongo from Blazing Saddles, of whom Gene Wilder’s character said: “Don’t shoot him. It just makes him mad.”

  2. Thanks Mike. I don’t believe there is a perfect method for dealing with it. A child who bullies needs to learn how to solve social problems and deal with their emotions without acting out behaviorally. Bullying and intimidating behavior can be learned at home through the relationship dynamic between parents.

    However, it is still the duty of school officials to hold anyone who is bullying another student accountable.

    I’m curious, would you call the response to Mr. Yelton’s first letter from Mr. Knauss and Mr. Dupuis a bullying and intimidating tactic?

    I agree that kids need to learn to deal it but kids also need to know that adults know about it and are in their corner.

    I have to give credit where credit is due. I think TE does a great job with bullying.

  3. Last year I had a daughter attending UES and was bullied all year long….My wife and I went to the principle on numerous occasions and nothing was done about it…..Tell me something, how are you going to educate a bully about bullying? They don’t care. What you need is a place for these kids to go and report their problems and most of all you need the people who are preaching about the bullying to do something about it and not ignore it!!!!!!

    • I fought hard for a hotline so that people could report things without fear of retaliation. The PTO would have paid for it. Sanville and Ken Bachelor killed the idea and made sure it went nowhere fast.

  4. John Sanville announced at a work session in March of 2010 that bullying was not an issue in UCFSD. It seems that he did a survey of some students he pulled out of class and nobody reported it as a problem. I was the only member of the public present and I am the one who had been begging him to take real action to update the bullying policy and enforce it. I had already begged Paula Massanari to take action. I had already begged Ruby Reif. I had already begged Jim Fulgenetti to take action. I had already begged the former Patton Principal for action. I begged teachers and every member of the school board for action, not once, not twice, but at every meeting and in many e-mails. NOBODY cared. So what if your kid is suffering. It doesn’t affect them or their beloved test scores or the 50 or so high achievers who get trotted out at various Board meetings as self-congratulatory proof of District greatness. This is the District where everything is “never better.”

    Someday a child will commit suicide in UCFSD and everyone will act so surprised and sad and there will be a pile of teddy bears and flowers. It won’t be anybody’s fault and people will whisper about the family that probably was really to blame for the poorly adjusted kid. I want so much to be wrong about this, but I see no possibility that anything will happen short of this terrible and very real possibility.

  5. There’s always two sides to a story but this sounds like the way public officials treat citizens they want to blame label and marginalize. If it happened as you say it did, that must have been a real sock in the gut when Mr. Sanville stood up and told the workshop bullying did not exist in U-CF when you had been telling him and others for quite some time just the opposite.

    Teachers must be trained to respond to bullying on a daily basis and the culture of the school must reinforce that bullying is not acceptable. My child goes to a middle school in the TE school District. My child’s school does an excellent job of reinforcing the message on a daily basis that bullying is not acceptable. The administrators and teachers are proactive, they have created a culture where there is 0 tolerance for bullying and I’m sure what you described here would never happen in my child’s middle school.

    Adults have to be much more active, pro active and responsible and do something about it. It’s not the kid’s problem. It’s our problem.

  6. It was a School Board work session which is open to the public, but almost nobody ever attends. I was going to every meeting to get the board/Sanville’s attention that bullying needed attention in the District. I spoke at every meeting where the public was allowed to comment begging for their enforcement of their very own policy. When I started my quest for help, the bullying policy wasn’t even up on the website. Paula Massanari refused to even acknowledge that it wasn’t up on the website until I suggested that she go there and print it off for me. It’s all part of “if-you-disagree-with-us-then-something-must-be-wrong-with-you” as if we are all crazy or stupid or manipulated by somebody else. When Paula couldn’t find it, Rich Hug quickly fixed it.

    Kids in this district are bullied by fellow students and there is teacher on student bullying. My kid was bullied by both. If anybody complains about bullying, they get the old thanks-for-bringing-it-to-our-attention response followed by an “investigation” which means that they talked to the kids in question and couldn’t determine what happened, but whatever happened won’t happen again. Then it does. In a couple of cases, they decided that my own kid was a fault and he was the one who was punished. It is just another way to discourage children and parents from complaining about a difficult issue in the “never better” District.

  7. Teaching is not easy. Teachers are human. Just like the rest of us, they are not perfect. . They have students they like better than others. I think that’s normal. I hear of teachers passing past students in the hall between classes and greeting 2 of the students walking in a group, while leaving the third one out…………every single day. Some would call this bullying. It’s not a good feeling for the third student but I think this is an example of a situation where the student has to shrug it off. Where is the “bullying line?” Whose call is it? A lot of it depends on the relationship between the student and parents with the teachers and administration.

    I do believe retaliation from school officials exists. I have seen it happen in the form of bullying, the holding back of opportunities for kids, other little things that if spoken out loud might cause school officials to give the appearance the person coming forward seems paranoid. There is power in numbers though and the more support you can get on this issue the more influence you will have.

    Keith Knauss has used TE School District many times to justify decisions he wants to push through in your school district from the outsourcing of aides to the supt.’s raise. As I said earlier, I believe TE does an excellent job with their website regarding bullying and I think the teachers and administrators have cultivated an environment where bullying is not tolerated. Our model is an excellent guide for any district interesting in doing the same.

    • You bring up a number of good points. You would think for the money being paid to Sanville directly and for the District in general there would be some leadership. All Sanville seems to be capable of doing is following people’s twitter feeds and making retweets which get posted on the district website or making postings about his dogs. He has not been a leader when it came to bullying (or anything else). In fact, quite the opposite. If he or the board cared about bullying, they would enforce the policy, admit that it occurs, listen to parents and students who report it and have a hotline where reports can be made without fear of retaliation. They would document who was bullied and who did the bullying and track it over each year. They would seek to help the children who were bullied and those who did the bullying because they clearly need the help to get at the root cause. They would stop denying opportunities to children of parents who complain. Their policy would speak to teacher on student bullying. They would take action against Fulgenetti for making his comment about fighting back to the parent who complained at the last meeting. The neighboring state of Delaware does significantly more to protect children and other school districts have much, much better programs. Kennett does a much better job than UCFSD. As Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge” and as long as they maintain that it doesn’t actually occur in the “never better” district, then no action needed. They can continue to blame the children or claim that the families themselves are to blame for the problems the children have with bullies or that kids should learn to handle it better.

      My question and one that is never answered by Keith or anybody is: What has Sanville done for the District? Retweets don’t count. You would think they would be proud of their guy when they just gave him so much money.

  8. It seems incomprehensible that an outstanding school district like U-CF would sweep something like bullying under the carpet and deny that it exists. I think it’s accepted in pretty much all circles that it exists everywhere. Yet, the fact that a parent felt desperate enough to bring it to the attention of Directors at a School Board meeting, indicates your claim may have some merit.

  9. If bullying is such a crisis in Unionville, why is there just one current parent and one former parent commenting on this letter? I’m not saying any level of bullying is acceptable, but if this were really the crisis described, wouldn’t there be an outpouring of comment and agreement — especially with the option of anonymous comments?

    A lot of the comments here seem to be one person with a grudge and another person with an ongoing, online battle with a current school board member.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m not in an ongoing, online battle with anyone. I think the more residents from all districts talk with each other, the better.

      You do have a good point though. I think residents feel intimidated about posting comments online. I wish they did not but it is what it is.

      I have been around citizens of U-CF. Very friendly, very nice and very willing to tell you what they think. Most times, it’s the opposite of what school directors say. But you’re right, if they don’t speak out, their voices are not heard and nothing gets accomplished or changed.

      I also agree that it is odd that only one person speaks out, yet another parent felt no other option but to direct their complaint to Directors at a school board meeting. What do you think about that? My guess is they went to many others before taking that drastic step.

      Comments like yours keep the conversation going and get citizens thinking. That’s what we need. In TE and U-CF.

  10. Olweus is the gold standard in anti bullying programs and has been effective in many school districts across the United States. Like many powerful tools, it is effective only when used properly and it is necessary that users be well trained. An important step in addressing the bullying problem is recognizing what bullying is and acknowledging its existence. Bullying is much more than name calling and hitting in the schoolyard, it is negative behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. In the UCFSD, we see bullying of and by students, staff, and administration. Because the nature of bullying having an imbalance of power, the victim is often reluctant or even afraid to speak up. There is a common fear of retribution in all corners of this district. At a meeting last spring of the anti-bullying coalition, a student spoke at length of her observations of bullying by a teacher. The vast majority of our teachers do not bully and some are even victims themselves. Olweus alone, especially without complete buy-in by teachers and staff in addition to adequate training, will not solve the bullying problem. Denying the existence will not solve it either. We need to recognize the problem and make appropriate changes in the culture of this district. We rely on district leadership to set the tone and lead by example. What is intended as, and may appear to be, playful teasing is not necessarily perceived that way by the target. Everyone in the UCFSD deserves to be treated with respect.

  11. I am aware of numerous students being bullied, especially during the middle school years, both in UCF and other districts, in school as well as outside school. I was aghast when a parent (whose child was neither being bullied nor the perpetrator) excused bullying behavior by saying that the victim was “asking for it” because they were “weird”. No one asks to be bullied, just like no one asks to be raped, robbed or assaulted.
    Unfortunately, some bullying is very hard to observe, thereby complicating intervention. It becomes “he said-she said”. Middle school behavior can be particularly insidious. Was the bump in the hall intended to knock the books out of the victim’s hands? Or was it accidental? Although stronger anti-bullying policies can be helpful, we must teach our children how to deal with bullying behavior because some of it will occur outside adult observation. And like Mike said, many student bullies become adult bullies, so learning how to deal with bullying behavior is a life skill, not just for middle school.

  12. Keith Knauss mentioned some time ago on Community Matters in Tredyffrin Township, www. pattyebenson.org, that an Administrator from TE was hired by U-CF. I checked into this claim and verified that this in fact was true. The administrator spent time in both middle schools in our district so has experience and knowledge about the 0 tolerance bullying culture in our district. He would be an excellent person to go to for guidance and help in creating a culture in your schools where bullying and threatening behavior is not tolerated.

    To illustrate what Dr. Manzone and Ms.Siegel describe, my child came home from school a few weeks ago and said he/she was being bullied on a daily basis by another student. He/She said an administrator caught the kid in the act, immediately identified it as bullying and put a stop to it. He/she does not know what the administrator did to halt the behavior and I think that’s good too. I asked my child if he/she thought of the behavior as bullying and he/she said “no, not until the administrator verbally identified it as bullying but after that he/she was sure it was and she/he was and is so grateful that he put a stop to it because it was really bothering her/him but he/she didn’t think to tell anyone. He/She has noticed the difference in her/his daily school life since it has stopped. I’m sure the kid who was bullying her/him did not know it was bullying behavior either and would have kept on with it the entire year unless someone intervened.

    Sometimes, especially in the middle school years, a bully doesn’t know he/she is a bully and the bullied doesn’t know they’re being bullied. Usually kids normalize whatever happens to them. It’s up to adults and district leadership to set the tone and lead by example as Dr. Manzone said. This administrator, in the TE middle school is doing that and making a positive difference in the lives of the students while also teaching them what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not.

  13. It’s true that bullying is hardly an “either/or” issue as something may appear one way to one person and completely different to another. However, the bullying that my son experienced in UCFSD was year after year sometimes with the same kids. The Administration carries no disciplinary records between the elementary school and Patton or between Patton and UHS so any bully gets a free pass when they go to the next school. My son also experienced bullying by teachers as Dr. Manzone has stated was also experienced by another student. I complained at one-on-one meetings with teachers and administrators at all levels and finally to school board members directly and then at work sessions and at public school board meetings. I went month after month after month and nothing happened until I mentioned at a public meeting that Dr. Sanville’s mantra of “never better” means that things will never be any better in the district. Then the bullying greatly escalated by school personnel toward both me and my son. I will not forget how badly my son and I were treated by Sanville and UCFSD. Sanville does not believe that bullying is an issue or he would have a policy that is enforced. No anti-bullying coalition or movie showing is going to make a difference until that policy is enforced and until everybody understands the District actually means it instead of spouting the zero tolerance mantra. No one person can make a difference on this issue, but parents who speak up and put pressure on the Board can make a difference. Sanville clearly needs to go. The bullying policy needs to be enforced and apply to everybody and not just be student specific. That action needs to happen before tragedy strikes in the district.

  14. Yes, a bullying policy in U-CF needs to be enforced and applied to everybody as you say.

    As Dr. Manzone said, Olweus is only effective when used properly and it is necessary that users be properly trained on an ongoing basis. As unbelievable as it may sound, the first step for your district has to be to acknowledge that it exists. (wow, hard to believe that’s true) Also, citizens have to become free of the fear of retribution by public officials. Public officials fear exposure. That’s why they bully and intimidate. Citizens have the power, they must recognize and own that fact.

    As most know, it is very difficult to fire a teacher. Most are good but like every organization, a few are bad.

    As Barbara stated, middle school behavior can be insidious, not only by students but also by teachers. By the time my first child entered middle school, a teacher had been suspended for a short time for
    egregious conduct against a child. In 6th grade, my child witnessed this same teacher bully and humiliate a student in her class by mocking and ridiculing him because he didn’t speak English well. My child spoke out and defended this child saying to the teacher that her actions were cruel and mean and to stop the intimidating behavior. She immediately turned on my child, humiliating him in front of his peers and issuing him a detention as a punishment for disrespectful behavior. Others in the class immediately went to the administration, an investigation was launched and my child was vindicated without having to serve the punishment. The teacher in question lasted only another year at most. I believe my child, the child who was humiliated and the entire class deserved an apology and an explanation that the teachers behavior was wrong, unacceptable and would not be tolerated. The administration was silent but their actions demonstrated they acknowledged the inappropriate behavior.

    I’ll take that.

  15. Another thing that happens is that when kids fear inaction or retaliation, they do not report bullying. I found out that three kids were picking on my son on the bus and he hadn’t said anything about it. I spoke to him and will never forget these words, “Mom, what’s the point? Nobody’s going to do anything and if they do, it will just make it worse.” He wore noise cancelling headphones on the bus and sat close to the driver. It didn’t help that the bus was also overcrowded. Bus rides in UCFSD are where a lot of bad stuff happens. On two occasions when he complained of bullying, he ended up being the one punished because they turned the complaint back on him.

    All of the children who now attend other schools due to bullying are forgotten entirely. When parents and children fear reporting or inaction, it only exacerbates the problem.

  16. That’s a sad story. And unacceptable too. It sounds like you need a drastic change in the accepted culture in your district. It starts with district leadership mandating a climate change where bullying will not be tolerated and adequate ongoing training of all staff is instituted thereby setting a better tone for reaching higher standards.

    Pay attention to School Board Director elections. Vote for candidates who best represent your values. I believe term limits are the answer for inappropriate relationships between administrators and Board Directors. It is the only hope for independent thinking.

  17. You’re right. It is a sad story. I looked at the video of the last school board meeting and it literally made me cry to see a parent so upset about bullying. I’ve lived his story and I know that others in the district have lived his story. I feel a real need to stand up for the other parents and kids in the district because the damage bullying causes goes on for years and sometimes a lifetime and sometimes it cuts a lifetime very, very, very short. I fear for the children and parents who are unheard in the district because the District will be “never better” but the damage will be done forever to the least powerful among us. The powerful will go on and get unbelievable salary increases. The damage done to the kids lasts. To BarbaraSiegel, my heart bleeds because I know what it is like to have a child that others consider “weird” because to be different in any way is the kiss of death for fitting in and getting along in UCFSD. To Turk182 who claims I have a grudge, I have to say that I agree 100% with you on this. I do have a grudge. Any parent who watched his or her child suffer repeatedly year after year in UCFSD at the hands of a bully while my concerns were dismissed and minimized by one teacher/administrator after another all the way to the Superintendent would also have a grudge. Sanville needs to go so that the next Superintendent can take this issue seriously. We need him to go before some child harms him/herself or commits suicide as a result of bullying while Sanville shuffles around and retweets pictures.

  18. It’s important that citizens continue to speak out for what is right. It’s difficult when you have three in district leadership who conduct themselves in a manner which demonstrates the very bullying and intimidating behavior in which you are trying to rid the district. The attack Mr. Knauss and Mr. Dupuis launched on Mr. Yelton’s opinion letter probably doesn’t make citizens want to come forward to receive the same if they dare speak out and the way Dr. Manzone was treated surely discourages more than a few from seeking public office but it is important that your voice is heard.

    There is a silent majority that agrees with you and the more you speak out, the more courage it gives others to do the same.

  19. You are so right. The silent majority continues to grow larger and is unstoppable. Nobody controls the many conversations that take place at the hardware store, before/after PTO meetings, book sale, church or between neighbors. The tide had turned in the community against this board/Superintendent. There have been so many mistakes including their treatment of Dr. Manzone who continues to be a well-respected leader in the community.

    I think you are a hero in UCFSD for saying what needs to be said. You truly make this district what it needs to be instead of an illusion. Thanks for standing up for what is right.

  20. Plato:

    “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

    TE Resident:

    When good people do not take action against perceived inequities, then they will be ruled by the people they did not stop.

    • Here is the one I hold dear:

      The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

      Edmund Burke

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