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Brunswick County Schools has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying.
That is the message school officials are conveying just a week after a student opened fire in Bakersfield, Calif., high school last week.
That shooting follows on the heals of the Dec. 14 massacre of elementary students and some adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
That shooting led county and school officials to add School Resource Officers (SROs) to the county’s nine elementary schools. The school system intends to make that a permanent addition. Area middle and high schools already have SROs in place.
“The School Resource Officers are not only for protection but (they are) also there to help educate students and staff,” superintendent Edward Pruden said.
Part of that education includes discussions about bullying.
“In each school, every employee deals with bullying—teachers, principals, bus drivers; the SROs are part of the team,” Pruden said.
Pruden said in Brunswick County Schools, they deal with bullying on a daily basis.
Pruden said schools provide counseling to victims and bullies. They also use punishment and education and sensitivity training, he said.
“Ms. (Joyce) Beatty is our ombudsman. She fields calls to the central office of any concerns,” Pruden said.
Beatty is the executive director of student support services.
“Our number one goal is a no tolerance rule for bullying. Any time a parent shares a concern, we investigate,” Beatty said.
Beatty said when a call comes in she connects the parent with a school principal or guidance counselor.
High schools have three guidance counselors; middle schools have two; and elementary schools have one.
The schools may also call upon SROs. They are fine-tuning the use of SROs, Beattyt said.
“They will be involved in building relationships with students; working and talking with them about positive behavior and supporting the social skills that are being taught,” she said.
Beatty said investigations of bullying or fighting requires due process.
She said school officials will talk to the person making the allegation and then talk to the (alleged) individual/perpetrator. They attempt to ask who can verify what happened and if there are witnesses. While they go through an investigation, take everything seriously, she said.
Once they gather information and make a decision, even if there is a suspension, the child is not going to make a change in their behavior without a strategy, Beatty explained. “Children don’t realize they perpetuate what they experience.”
If a suspension is required, they follow with counseling and support, then supervision.
“It’s a process built around the needs of the student,” Beatty said.
It can include sessions with a counselor or checking in during the school week on their progress.
“They take time to give alternate strategies for behavior,” Beatty said. “We hope to hear a resolution of (the students’) issues…They don’t have to be best friends, but they need to coexist.”
Pruden added that staff has spent a lot of time on conflict resolution and the incidence of bullying is declining.
“Our out-of-school suspension has decreased substantially. In-school suspension has been cut in half. I think we are making progress with education and conflict resolution,” he said.
Pruden added online bullying is a tricky area because it happens outside of school, but consequences manifest in schools.
The school system wants to hear from anyone who needs assistance, he said.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.