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Lindbergh Moms In Forefront Of Campaign To Address Bullying In Schools

May 11, 2018
Mothers have been in the forefront in battles against drunk drivers, gun violence, opioid abuse and more. Both nationally and locally, mothers have now picked up the gauntlet against child bullying in schools.

The Lindbergh Upstanders Anti-Bullying Collaborative, a new parent-driven group focusing on anti-bullying policies and education for the district, is picking up momentum and getting the message out for a zero-tolerance policy on bullying in schools.

According to Erica Hoffman of the collaborative, there have been far too many bullying incidents on school playgrounds, in cafeterias, at sporting events and on bus transportation.

She said an Upstanders Facebook Group page in the district picked up more than 550 members in just a few months. The display of interest and the feedback on the site is the clearest evidence that bullying is a problem and incidents need to be addressed.

"The majority of those on the site are mothers, but we don't want to leave out dads," said Hoffman. "Robert Vogel, whose son was bullied at Concord School, deserves a lot of credit for getting the ball rolling on this issue in the district.

"I have a son who experienced bullying," added Hoffman. "Robert Vogel and I shared our concerns on Facebook and agreed that something had to be done. My concern goes back to the shooting tragedies that have taken place in schools, really back to the terrible incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012."

Hoffman said such incidents show that schools and parents need to get involved and reach out to both the kids who do the bullying and kids who are victims of such abusive behavior.

"My son was bullied at Sperreng where I was president of the PTO," said Hoffman. "At first, I worried about even talking about it. But then I realized that the district did not have ways to report bullying, to figure out who it should be reported to, and how it should be handled."

Hoffman said she doesn't want to be too critical of the district. She said school officials are now responding to the concerns of the Upstanders Anti-Bullying Collaborative.

"However, when I saw that in 2015 Lindbergh reported 20 cases of bullying in the entire district, I shook my head," said Hoffman. "After talking to parents, I would bet there are that many cases in any one elementary school in the district."

Kentucky Fried Assassins

Renee McDonnell said she became involved with anti-bullying efforts after her son was thrown to the ground and kicked by a group of fifth graders who called themselves the "Kentucky Fried Assassins." She said she talked to school officials and was not satisfied that parents were being contacted and that enough was being done.

"About the time of this incident, I noticed parents on Facebook expressing the same concerns," said McDonnell. "In March, we began meeting and talking about policies that might be put in place to address these situations."

Among the recommendations:

 A uniform policy adopted to report, document and follow-up on incidents.

 On-going anti-bullying awareness efforts and special educational events.

 Student-led initiatives for bullying prevention for schools and community.

 Partnering with local agencies and police to aid in anti-bullying efforts.

"I think the district is hearing our message," said McDonnell of the new Anti-Bullying Collaborative. "I would like to see additional measures, such as more cameras in areas where we know bullying takes place cafeterias, playgrounds and hallways.

"Another recommendation is for a full-time counselor to deal with school bullying," added McDonnell. "Based on parents' stories and how fast our group has grown, I feel there is plenty of evidence of the need for this."

McDonnell said the new group is predominantly mothers, but several dads have been instrumental in getting things off the ground.

"We are encouraging more dads to get involved," said McDonnell. "But I think children do confide more in their mothers, which is why we are maybe more aware of the issue. From what I've witnessed so far, I would say moms are more pro-active and dads are probably more re-active with this kind of thing,"

McDonnell and other concerned moms are unanimous that there is an uptick in bullying and a big part of the problem is social media. On-line games encourage violence and social media is the locus of growing cyber-bullying.

"Where do fifth graders come up with an idea like Kentucky Fried Assassins and yelling 'the assassins attack!'" noted McDonnell. "The physical abuse may not be the worst part of dealing with something like this. It also causes emotional hurt."

Trash Talk, Intimidation

Barbara Vogel of the Lindbergh anti-bullying group said that her son encountered regular bullying last academic year in elementary school.

"In our situation, he experienced trash talk, shoving and intimidation. It made for a very long and strenuous year for him in school," said Vogel. "My husband and I thought school officials were just not prepared to deal with it.

"They did not have a form to fill out a report; they did not record it in any way; they did not even contact parents of the perpetrator to discuss the situation," said Vogel. "Finally, my husband made a call to the other parents to try to resolve it himself."

Vogel said it's important to get students involved. She said when bullying begins to happen, the best way to end it might be for other students to step forward and to say: This is wrong. This needs to stop.

"Sometimes kids will listen to each other more often than to teachers or their parents," said Vogel. "If kids are taught to speak up, and not to just be bystanders when there is bullying and intimidation, I think they can make a difference and get it to stop."

Vogel and Hoffman believe moms are having an impact on the bullying issue, and Lindbergh is responding.

"We had a meeting on Thursday night, May 3, and two school officials and two board members were there," said Hoffman. "They have developed an on-line bullying report form and it is being test-piloted at one of the schools. That's a step in the right direction. We are encouraged that we are being heard."

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