Dr. Martin Ringstaff, Cleveland city schools director, recently reinforced the system’s stance against bullying.
He highlighted a quote from a pamphlet on bullying children are sent home with every year.
“... Cleveland City Schools is taking a proactive approach to minimize the chances that bullying will occur in our buildings. The general consensus is that one out of three children is bullied at school, in the neighborhood or online and that one out of three children bully others,” Ringstaff said. “Regardless of where it occurs, bullying is a problem that affects all of our children ...”
Administrators and teachers are trained to identify, handle and report bullying incidents.
“We do probably 12-16 hours of training before school even starts and throughout the school year just on bullying, harassing and hazing,” Ringstaff said. “We want to make sure that is addressed.”
Any bullying incidents must be reported to the state and city school board. Information cannot be shared with the public as the subjects in question are minors. Ringstaff said this is the main reason more information cannot be shared with parents who want to know their child’s bully is being punished.
He said any child under the age of 18 has legal protection. All the school system can say is corrective measures are being taken.
“I would love to tell you what we did, but it is against the law,” Ringstaff said. “I can’t just spill the beans.”
Bullying is most often seen at the middle school among students in the transitional years.
“It is a maturity issue from probably late fourth-grade to mid-ninth-grade,” Ringstaff said. “That four or five year period is definitely the hotbed of bullying. All middle schools take a hard stance against bullies.”
A new weapon of bullies has come in with the latest advances of technology, specifically social media.
“By the way the state code works, if it happens outside of school then the school can still deal with it if it disrupts the school day,” Ringstaff said. “... We have suspended students. We have taken action against students because of Facebook or Twitter.”
“We can, although they might have sent the message at 7 that night,” he added.
Corrective measures are not merely punitive in nature. Administrators take the initiative to ensure both the victim and bully learn from the circumstances. Explained Ringstaff, “We want to use this as an educational time, because we are dealing with students.”
A part of the city school system’s plan against bullying is open communication between students and school staff.
“A lot of bullying goes unreported because students are scared to say something. They go home to their parents and it is automatically assumed we did not do anything,” Ringstaff said. “Well we didn’t do anything, because we didn’t know anything about it.”
He added, “There has got to be open communication.”
He said open communication between parents and school administration is needed in the offense against bullying. Parents who hear their child is being bullied are encouraged to contact the school.
“We are not going to drop the hammer and start suspending kids. We will investigate the matter and get the parents involved,” Ringstaff said. “I think that is huge. Parents have got to be a part of the process, because nine times out of 10 parents have no clue their kids are either being bullied or acting as the bully.”
According to Ringstaff, an investigation occurs for every bullying incident reported.
He said some investigations prove the one who reported being bullied was actually the bully.
“Because it has gotten so far, they pull back and say, ‘Hey, I’m being bullied.’ When we back up to the beginning of the timeline, there is probably a reason they went down this path,” Ringstaff said. “Many times the initial report is not what the findings show.”
“A lot of times it’s not even bullying. It is something completely different. There is a lot to the investigation.”