Here is the complete story about Wednesday night's meeting from the Star.
As I understand it, 600 invitations were mailed to parents of high school students.
City, school officials discuss bullying
By AMANDA BREITBACH RAGSDALE
Star Staff Writer
A public safety meeting Wednesday evening held in response to several recent cases of youth assault and bullying was well attended by school administration and law enforcement but less so by area parents.
Miles City Council member John Uden said he called the meeting partly because he wanted the community to know what is already being done to combat bullying. Uden also said he is researching the possibility of a youth bullying ordinance to bring before the council.
Superintendent of Schools Jack Regan said bullying of all kinds is a priority for the school district. Teachers receive training on how to handle bullying each year. Training and workshops are also offered to students and signage in the schools encourages kids to report bullying.
"In my perspective, the schools are working hard at (preventing bullying)," he said.
New technology has made that job more difficult, as students can now bully each other through text messages and on social networking sites. Regan said students must obey strict rules concerning phone use during class and on school trips, but bullying is "a 24/7 problem."
"A lot of these things go on - most of them - outside of school hours," he added.
A recent presentation on cyberbullying, texting, "sexting," and other emerging issues was opened to the community, but attendance was poor. Although 600 invitations were sent to parents, Regan said only six came. The Sept. 22 presentation was given to students during the day and a session for parents was offered in the evening, after most parents would be off work.
"We would just hope that the parents would work with the schools, not be adversaries," he added.
Jon Plowman, principal at Washington Middle School, said technology makes bullying a bigger problem, but schools have done their best to implement effective rules and strategies.
"Bullying bothers me, and when people imply that we're not doing enough to stop it, it bothers me," he said. "I don't think any kid should come to school and be in fear."
A rule governing cell phone use was implemented at WMS three years ago. Confiscated phones are taken to the office and can only be retrieved by parents. The first year, 60 phones were confiscated, Plowman noted. In the second year, only 20 phones were taken away, and this year there have been just three incidents. Those numbers show that the rule is working, and involving parents helps make them more aware of the policy.
"It's tougher now to be a kid than it probably was 20 years ago," noted Jamie Ogolin, principal at Custer County District High School. "Which means it's tougher to be a parent."
Bullying and poor behavior is also a problem with students who come to the Miles City Public Library, said librarian Sonja Wood. Many of the students who cause problems come to the library after school, on weekends and during the summer.
"They don't want to go home," she said, adding that while the library welcomed all kids and wanted to offer them every chance, handling poor behavior can be difficult.
She and several parents questioned how the schools punish bullies.
Laurie Huffman, the principal at Garfield Elementary School, said consequences depend on the students' age and why they committed the offense. Punishments can include watching videos of bullying scenarios and completing worksheets about them, detention, in school suspension and out of school suspension.
CCDHS Assistant Principal Terry Annalora said he often begins a conversation with a student by reading the law and spelling out legal consequences. So far that strategy has been very effective, he noted. At the high school, policy is also spelled out in the student handbook, which every student must sign. Incidents that turn physical are punished by suspension, but he prefers to suspend kids in school, Annalora said, where they are supervised and it is not "like an extended vacation."
For students who are habitual offenders, juvenile probation is an option.
Juvenile Probation Officer Matt Phillips said he works with 16 junior high and high schools and enjoys an excellent relationship with Miles City schools. Youth under 18 who commit an offense are referred to him and often receive counseling. For non-compliant and repeat offenders, the office also has the backing and support of the county attorney's office. As a last resort, any youth who is considered a threat can be detained.
School Resource Officer Barney Murnin said he also has been very satisfied with the actions and cooperation of Miles City Schools on bullying issues. Last year he spent 25-30 hours in programs with students in the fourth through ninth grades. Some of his training from the Montana Behavioral Institute has concentrated on teaching social skills most kids learn at home. The Why Try curriculum mandates at least four hours of one-on-one work with Murnin for students who receive their fourth suspension. Last year he worked with 13 different kids.
The majority of students are well behaved and involved in school, Plowman noted, adding, "There are a lot of parents doing things the right way."
Just a handful of students creates most of the problems in every school, he added, saying, "Every principal in here spends 80 percent of their time with 10 percent of the kids."
Several parents who attended the meeting told stories of children bullied, intimidated and even physically abused. One mother said her daughter had come home crying with bruises from being pushed up against the wall and begged her mother not to report the incidents to school officials. That made her afraid, too, and she did not report the problem at first. The woman said she would have done things differently if she could live it over again. Her daughter refuses to be involved in extra-curricular activities and has even developed stomach ulcers from stress, but the situation has improved since she changed schools.
Administrators, law enforcement and parents all stressed the importance of reporting bullying and helping kids know that their concerns will not be dismissed.
Uden told participants he intended to pursue the creation of a youth bullying ordinance in the city to help combat the problem. While physical assault, intimidation and stalking are all illegal, cases of bullying are difficult to prove. A youth bullying ordinance could be more inclusive and would more correctly classify the problem, he said. Several administrators expressed support for the idea.
"This is not the last meeting I'm going to call on this," Uden concluded. "We do not want our kids to be statistics."