Legislature eyes school harassment

Bill requires districts to identify, do something about bullying

Posted: Monday, April 11, 2005

Alaska lawmakers are trying to make it easier for schoolchildren to keep their lunch money.

House Bill 233, also known as the "anti-bully" bill, sets out to require schools to have guidelines that identify harassing behavior and procedures to deal with these problems.

"It's not like guys are taking kids in the bathrooms and giving them swirlies. They usually push them around or tell them to grab them a chair during lunch," said senior Mark Silva of Juneau-Douglas High School.

"Sometimes they take their food," he added. "And, of course, ask for money."

Physical altercations, such as fist fights, are rare at JDHS, but Silva has seen upperclassmen intimidate younger students, often asking kids to do extra work for them.

"One that is really common is copying homework. If the bully doesn't have it, they force them to give it to them so they can copy it," Silva said.

JDHS already has a thorough policy that deals with bullying, said Assistant Principal Kathryn Milliron. But still it continues.

"The perpetrators put on their best face and try to pass it off," Milliron said, about the difficulties of catching bullies.

The legislation is aimed at schools that do not have written guidelines to discipline teasing and threats - incidents that can lead to serious harm.

"In the villages, here and there, there's a lot of young kids that are emotionally disturbed by things like this," said Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, the bill's sponsor.

Salmon said he also was bullied while in school: "I'm sure everyone has been bullied at some point."

House majority leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he has not seen the bill, but a similar version proposed last year was rejected because the majority felt that the policies should be decided at the local level.

The Juneau School District has worked over the years to address low-level aggressive behavior. "Stop it low to prevent it high" is its motto.

One helpful tool has been a hotline and anonymous forms students fill out to protect their confidentiality.

"We stole it from police, but it works," Milliron said.

Lately, the administration has tried to crack down on less obvious forms of harassment, such as "relational bullying."

"When a person is offended by a particular thing someone has done, they will pull their support group in to target that person either by making direct comments about, starting rumors about, talking ugly about the person," Milliron said.

Victims are scared to report the incidences for fear they will be ostracized by their peers as a "tattle-tale" or a "narc," Silva explained.

Juneau middle school students say sixth-graders are often teased by the eighth-graders.

"Last year, the kids used to call me names, but not so much this year because I'm a year older," said Brianna Avis, a Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School seventh-grader. Overall she believes her school is safe.

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School Principal Barb Mecum said bully prevention has been a priority because bullying distracts from learning.

"When there's bullying going on, school can be a miserable place," Mecum said.

The bill will be heard later this month in the House Education Committee.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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