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Taskforces tackle bullying differently

School district reluctant to form partnership

Nov. 20, 2012

Greendale - Two anti-bullying task forces, each with a separate approach and separate leaders, are getting more active in the village.

The Climate and Culture Taskforce, co-chaired by Alison Julien and Susan Castro, parents of Greendale students, is organized by the Greendale School District. Greendale Against Bullying is led by co-presidents Linda Lee and Brian Debelak, both of whom have children in the district.

Greendale Against Bullying has approached the district and Superintendent John Tharp to present its mission and website. While Tharp agreed to meet with the group, he declined to work directly with them.

Tharp said of its website, "It entails kids or parents logging into her website and saying 'I was bullied,' or 'My child was bullied at this school.' We don't look at that as favorable. We want to work directly between school and family."

The group members, frustrated by the reception it has received from Tharp, appeared Tuesday at the School Board meeting to petition the board to let them present their group and work to the district.

Debelak pleaded at the meeting for the board to consider a partnership, adding: "I was an educator, and I understand where the administration is coming from. This community-based focus is geared toward educating adults."

There are no official plans on the table for both groups to come together.

The district's force

The district's Climate and Culture Taskforce has a mission to examine the school's policy on bullying, take input from students, faculty and staff, and determine what action, if any, to take. The group has met twice and will have two more meetings, one Nov. 28 and the other Dec. 5.

The task force, which has 20 members who are district staff, students or parents, is in the process of analyzing local policies and procedures. The group has gathered input from about 400 students and staff members about types of bullying, avenues of bullying and what teachers do to prevent bullying.

The findings show a mild to moderate intensity of bullying, rare to seldom levels of in-school bullying, but a large amount of bullying via social media and text messages. The findings are available on the Greendale High School website - accessible via the district's site, www.greendale.k12.wi.us - under the "District News and Announcements" header.

Tharp, stressing the task force's involvement with parent groups, said, "The ultimate goal of the task force is to make recommendations to administration and each school's parent groups to propose solutions to them, and they can take those and move forward."

The community's force

Greendale Against Bullying formed in August. The group aims to be a nonprofit advocacy group for students who experience bullying. The group has worked with medical professionals at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and is working on having a 24-hour hotline that victims of bullying can call.

The group, led by eight parents, including a police officer, also has a website they hope to have fully functional by Dec. 1. The website, gabnow.org, includes and will add resources to help parents, faculty and school staff deal with bullying.

The website also has a "report a bully" feature through which one can name a bully confidentially. The site asks what school the bully is in, when the bullying occurred and which grade the bully and the victim are in.

Lee said they will look to their professionals for guidance before taking action against any suspected bullies.

"We've talked about how we may be getting accusations and calls," she said. "We have professionals in this area in addition to ourselves who are going to be on the team. We are in the community."

If the group feels like it needs to take action about the bully, they will call the parent and alleged bully to talk about how they can deal with the problem.

Lee said she feels the community-based organization will be more efficient and able to cut through red tape.

"This can be resolved with a simple phone call," she said.

The group also is in the process of organizing speakers and obtaining more business sponsors. It plans to set up yard signs advertising community solidarity against bullying.

Common ground

Both groups agree that Greendale doesn't have a greater-than-average bullying problem. Greendale Against Bullying believes that bullying is an epidemic across America that must be dealt with.

The Climate and Culture Taskforce's findings don't show a large amount of bullying, but they do show there is a moderate amount.

"Bullying is a problem everywhere, and this is a great opportunity for the district to take a look at this issue, look at what's in place and see what can be implemented," Bill Attewell, communications coordinator for the Greendale School District, said.

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