The message should be clear to the students returning to campus at the beginning of the new fall term– a bully’s behavior won’t be tolerated on campus, and it won’t be tolerated in Long Beach’s recreational programs either.
Earlier this summer, the Long Beach City Council adopted an anti-bullying policy for the parks, recreation and marine department. The City’s policy that will be implemented in its recreational programs is reputed to closely mirror the Long Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) policy.
The school district’s specific definition of bullying is “aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions,” involves a behavioral pattern that is repeated over time as well and involves an “imbalance of power or strength.”
The school district’s overall message against bullying also comes with curricula and training for staff to face bullying directly.
According to Tiffany Brown, LBUSD’s director of Coordinated Student Services, no one has been expelled for being a bully, however disciplinary measures have involved students transferring to other schools. Brown described how the policy is a broad blueprint and sets the standard for the schools. There are consequences for a bully, which could include suspension or some other form of disciplinary action.
Brown was pleased with Long Beach’s decision to adopt a policy similar to the district’s, adding that bullying needs to be discussed by others beyond just the school staff.
“The topic of bullying needs to be a community conversation,” Brown said in a phone interview, explaining that the topic should be addressed in a variety of contexts– at sporting events, at afterschool programs and at home.
The school district is still undergoing a learning curve when it comes to handling all forms of bullying. Brown acknowledged that social media is an especially problematic issue when schools are attempting to address cyber-bullying that could take place at night. A negative interaction online can still affect students the next day.
“The laws that are attached to the use of social media and inappropriate behaviors on social media really haven’t caught up with the technology,” Brown said. She described how schools address these incidents that happen online that are reported to be “threatening in nature,” that have involved enough students to disrupt the day or have involved an exchange of “inappropriate information” about a student.
Brown emphasized that the dialogue on bullying shouldn’t only focus on the bully and the person who is being bullied. She acknowledged the role of bystanders, the individuals who watch and observe a bully in action.
Seventh District Long Beach Councilmember James Johnson agrees that bullying needs to be addressed in a community context, acknowledging that the same issues that happen in the schools do “spill over” into the parks.
“It doesn’t stop at the school bell,” he said in a phone interview.
Johnson says that the anti-bullying policy came as a direct result of a joint youth committee, a group that the councilmember started. He described how the policy should allow free dialogue for kids to speak out against bullying.
“We’re trying to create an environment where they can tell us without fear of retaliation,” he said.
One state official is questioning whether bullying is being sufficiently handled.
In a recent statement, State Senator Ricardo Lara highlighted a State auditor’s report on school safety and non-discrimination laws that cover bullying, among other issues. The report concluded that most educational agencies that the auditor’s office surveyed do not evaluate the effectiveness of their own programs.
The auditor’s report named specific areas that warranted improvement for the schools that were reviewed. Lack of documentation, weaknesses in the complaint-resolution process, and failures to investigate incidents in a timely fashion were among the problems in the schools that were reviewed.
The auditor’s conclusions raised concerns with Lara, who pledged in a recent press statement to address the auditor’s recommendations. According to Lizette Mata, a spokesperson for Lara’s office, the state senator is working on legislation for the next legislative session around December or January.
Brown says that, to the best of her knowledge, LBUSD was not among the districts included in the State auditor’s survey. She says that LBUSD does measure how the schools under its jurisdiction are meeting expectations as outlined by the district, which looks at student discipline reports and reviews school surveys regarding the climate of the campus and how safe the students feel when they are at school. They have also done focus groups.
Johnson says that the City will also be evaluating how well the anti-bullying policy will work in the City’s recreational program. When asked whether the new policy had the appropriate accountability measures in place, Johnson said that he felt that it did have consequences.
“But, in order for this to work, we really need the [participation] of the community,” he said. “And that’s a big part of this. We can’t sit around and wait for others to help us. We need to be part of the solution.”