Shelton school board tackles bullying

August 11, 2018

SHELTON — Perry Hill School Principal Lorraine Williams tackles bullying on a daily bases at her upper elementary school.

It’s just not called that.

“We talk to kids on a regular basis how we treat others,” Williams told the city school board at a meeting this week. “We use the word ‘mean’ because we want all mean behavior to stop. We want kids to be nice to each other.”

On a summer evening when it wasn’t dealing with lingering school budget issues or confidential ways to keep schools safer, the school board held what it called a round table discussion on what for many school districts is a perennial topic: bullying.

When Bridgeport tackled the topic in June, school board members flat out rejected the notion that a district of 21,000 students had only 71 investigated cases of bullying reported in the 2017-18 school year. Of those, only 19 were verified.

In Shelton this past year, there were 10 verified instances of bullying among some 4,925 students, according to Assistant Superintendent Lorraine Rossner. Most of those — six — were reported at Shelton Intermediate School. Two were at Perry Hill, which educates the district’s fifth- and sixth-graders, and two at Shelton High School. None were reported at the district’s four elementary schools.

“Can we look at files?” Dave Gioello, a Shelton board member, asked.

If lower level acts are kept at the classroom or school level, how do we know board policy is being followed, Gioello asked.

Schools Superintendent Chris Clouet told him that was outside the scope of a school board’s role.

Williams said one reason the count may seem low is that it only covers instances that fall within the state’s narrow definition of bullying.

To make the state count, it has to be overt actions directed against another student with the intent to ridicule, harass, humiliate or intimidate which are committed more than once during the school year.

A single verbal taunt, physical attack, threat, intimidation, theft or exclusion from a peer group doesn’t count. Those may get a kid detention or a suspension but the student is not labeled a bully unless it happens more than once and can be verified through an investigation that may or may not involve witnesses.

“It is not a whimsical interpretation,” Clouet told the board.

From 2012 to 2016, Shelton reported 108 instances of bullying involving 82 students. In 2017, none were recorded by the state.

At Perry Hill, Williams said there were 39 cases of “meanness” that rose to the level of an investigation, and if warranted, a consequence such as a loss of privilege, detention or suspension. Others, what she called “Level 1” offenses, were logged and handled by classroom teachers. In all cases, she said, parents were notified.

Williams said even one-time occurrences are taken seriously.

“It is important that children are emotionally safe at school and not picked on,” she said, adding the school has a good infrastructure and plan in place to combat “meanness.”

The topic is talked about in class, there are assemblies, poster and essay contests and a Bullying Awareness Week. “Positivity” was last year’s school theme. Teachers are trained annually on how to look for and handle acts of bullying.

Investigations, she said, involve speaking to all parties and seeking witnesses.

While it doesn’t happen often, Williams said some instances of verified bullying stick out in her mind. Like the case a few years back where a student ridiculed another, telling fat jokes on at least four separate occasions.

The student received in-school suspension, spent time talking to a counselor and School Resource Officer, and received increased supervision.

“How do you know if it’s successful?” Kilmartin asked of Perry Hill interventions.

“If it doesn’t happen again,” Williams responded, adding she regularly collects and looks at the logs teachers keep.

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