Journal Inquirer

March 15, 2016

MANCHESTER — The Board of Education heard Monday from three parents who said their children are bullied at school.
A local mother last week told Fox-TV61 about her son being abused verbally and physically at Washington Elementary School, leading to a discussion on social media.
The mother, Candy Lopez, spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s Board of Education meeting and said she had received six or seven messages from parents whose children have also been regularly bullied at Washington Elementary.
“I want to see if parents can come together and make them feel safe,” she said. “When kids don’t feel safe in school, that’s a problem.”
Lopez said school administrators have not been responsive to complaints about bullying. She and other parents hope to start a forum to stop bullying in Manchester schools, she said.
Lopez said she hopes to play a role in combating this problem before her youngest child enters kindergarten, adding that bullying has been a problem in her family for the past three years.
One parent who spoke at the meeting said his daughter gets harassed in middle school and suffers from what he describes as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“They have a bullying policy, but it’s not implemented, because there is so many kids getting bullied,” he said. “This should be the best time of their lives.”
Parents took to Facebook after Lopez appeared on television, saying the schools fail to prevent repeated bullying incidents.
However, Manchester schools respond only to formal reports, adhering to all state laws, said Jim Farrell, attendance and communications director for Manchester Public Schools.
Farrell said there were three verified incidents of bullying last year.
School board Chairman Christopher Pattacini told the parents the board and administration take the issue seriously and urged them to follow protocol for reporting incidents.
“Reach out to your teacher to report that bullying, because the only way the policy will be effective is if it’s reported as bullying at the time it occurs,” he said.
One student said that after getting continuously harassed he finally snapped — flopping down into a chair and crying. He said his teacher failed to help him.
The school system’s policy says that “school employees who witness acts of bullying or receive reports of bullying” should verbally notify the principal, the designated safe school climate specialist for each building.
The specialist’s role is to identify, prevent, investigate, and respond to formal reports of bullying, the policy says.
Forms to file formal reports are available in each school’s main office, the policy says. The forms, which can be filed anonymously, ask for details of the bullying incident.
The principal is forwarded the materials and reviews them before notifying a parent or guardian no later than 48 hours after an investigation concludes, the policy says.
Farrell said the schools believe they do a lot to address bullying and are committed to building strong relationships with families and creating programs to involve and partner with them.
One such program took place Friday at Washington School, where students in kindergarten, first, and second grade received awards for positive behavior in a monthly assembly called “Grow.”
Students from the “Stop Bullying Club” spoke at Friday’s event advocating better choices, being open to new learning, and supporting peers.
Janina Johnkoski, engagement specialist and club advisor, said the “fantastic group of girls” is doing a great job articulating narratives for social acceptance of all students. She said more groups of students are joining the club, which meets during recess.
A fourth-grader in the club, Cheyenne, said the club is working as kids follow the club’s example.
Matthew Geary, Manchester schools superintendent, said Washington Elementary does not have a problem with bullying in comparison to other schools. He said children are learning how to behave.
Geary said one of the school system’s new initiatives is teaching mindfulness through yoga led by retired teacher, Patricia Lavey, to help students learn to be calm and respectful.
In its first year, school officials believe anecdotal evidence shows the program is effective. The schools will continue monitoring disciplinary action data to determine its effectiveness, Geary said.
Washington Principal Jim Collin says the school needs to continue communicating its expectations to build student’s vocabulary to articulate how they feel.
Manchester schools have a number of other programs teaching social acceptance, including a YouTube channel discussing social thinking and a Manchester High School program called “Heroes,” where students visit elementary schools and talk to younger kids about appropriate behavior.