Officials take stance against school bullies | CraigDailyPress.com
Ryan Sheridan

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Officials take stance against school bullies

Policymakers address school bullying on local, state levels

Moffat County is not immune to problems communities across the nation face. There is crime, children are using drugs, and there is the chance a student will be pushed over the edge by bullies.

As evidenced by several tragedies in the past few years, bullying can lead to catastrophe. In Moffat County, a middle school student was sent to the state mental hospital in Pueblo last month after he threatened to kill two other students. Those students, his mother said, pushed her son over the edge with continuous bullying.

It’s the same story that students who go one to commit serious crimes tell bullying drove them to it.

Sen. Penn Tate, D-Denver, and Rep. Don Lee, R-Littleton, drafted a bill that would require schools to have a plan and policy on how to deal with bullying.

“We’ve seen bullying become such a problem in our schools,” said Ken Lane, Deputy Attorney General. “This bill only amends the Safe School Act, and acts to highlight the issue for schools, parents and kids so they can work at the problem: kids mistreating kids.”

The bill defines bullying as any written or verbal expression, physical act or gesture, or a pattern intended to cause distress upon one or more students.

“An important part of this bill is that nothing mandates what goes into the policy it can be a very detailed, completely new set of rules, or use existing rules to create a policy, or something as simple as a statement saying bullying won’t be tolerated and letting the existing rules stand,” Lane said. “We want to say: be creative; how can bullying be addressed in your school? That way there’s no mandate for what the policy is, only that a policy needs to exist.”

According to Duane Wrightson, Superintendent of Moffat County Schools, the local districts will only need to tweak existing policies.

“At the seventh- and eighth-grade level, they have taken steps that deal with the issue. We’ll look at what they are doing with their programs, be proactive on the issue, and tweak our other programs.”

The school district has worked hard to impress on the students that disrespectful or rough treatment won’t be tolerated, Wrightson said.

“I think we’re there, so the bill doesn’t have much effect on us,” he said.

Craig Police Department Officer Caroline Wade, school resource officer for the elementary, intermediate and middle schools in Moffat County, agrees.

“We have a program in place, in addition to social skills programs to teach kids social skills to head off problems,” Wade said. “Also, we are writing more tickets when there are problems.”

The tickets are for misdemeanor assaults and related offenses, causing students to appear in court and answer for their actions.

“We are trying to make them realize that this is a serious situation,” Wade said. “The incidents haven’t gone up, but we’re writing a lot of tickets to get the message out that this is a serious issue.”

Guidance counselors at Craig Intermediate School (CIS), John Nagoda and Linda Nolte, are also working hard on this issue.

“We have programs of formal presentation, plus programs that work to adjust the culture of the school concerning bullying and reporting bullying,” Nagoda said. “We’re trying to lessen as much as we can the teasing, and working on removing the rude behavior. We’re moving toward debugging CIS.”

Craig Middle School [CMS] also has programs and policies in place to combat bullying.

“In the short term, we are educating kids on harassment and bullying. [Don] Guffy, the dean of students, went around to all the classes and defined harassment through examples and explanation,” CMS counselor Kathy Bockleman said. “For the long term, we are also trying to change the culture, and change the way kids feel that it’s not OK to tell, that it’s not OK to stop a bully.”