Districts constantly battling bullying
The biggest hurdle to combatting bullying, Tolono Superintendent Andy Larson says, is the fact that incidents often occur when adults aren't watching.
"If it did," he said, "we'd stop it immediately."
That's why area districts try to take preventive approaches to bullying, letting students know the rules — and the consequences for breaking them — at the start of the school year, in addition to providing scientific-based social-emotional programming and training their staffs.
"I can't name one school ... where you do not see active campaigns going on to help educate kids on how we need to treat others," said Westville schools chief Seth Miller.
A few examples of the measures districts take:
In OAKWOOD, social workers and a village police officer talk about bullying during school safety presentations, Superintendent Gary Lewis said.
The grade school has its own positive behavior program to instill schoolwide expectations — to be safe, trustworthy, appropriate and respectful — and officials hold a boot camp twice a year to review those, said Principal Nicole Lapenas.
DANVILLE uses the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and Second Step programs to help students develop skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts and make responsible decisions.
Last year, the district worked with then-University of Illinois Professor Dorothy Espelage, a nationally known bullying-prevention expert, to develop a more comprehensive plan to report and address bullying after some parents, students and staff expressed concern about increased incidents at the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade level.
"We just met to strengthen that plan even more," Superintendent Alicia Geddis said.
It has to go deeper than assemblies and posters, said Larson, whose TOLONO district has had six bullying incidents this school year.
"From our perspective, we're zero tolerance to bullying. We have classes at the junior high, resource officers and social workers in our classrooms, all with the goal of socially adapting our kids to understand right and wrong early on, but we also want to give the kids the skills to protect themselves," he said. "Not necessarily in a physical way, but to be able to defend themselves in a way that their self-esteem isn't impacted.
"It's always going to be a challenge for schools; there's always going to be times when kids aren't nice to each other."
In CHAMPAIGN, school resources officers play a part in putting out fires before they start, said Unit 4's Orlando Thomas. The district has five Champaign police officers permanently stationed at each of the three middle schools and two high schools, allowing students to develop personal relationships with them.
"Lots of information is shared with them that allows them to be proactive and address issues at an earlier stage," Thomas said. "They are a tremendous resource and students share things formally and informally with them on a daily basis."