Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bullying in McHenry County

Principled Minds, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization in Woodstock, presented a program this evening at McHenry County College (MCC) that was designed to educate teachers, school administrators and staff, parents and students about bullying in schools.

When Harold Rail, executive director of Principled Minds, introduced the program, he mentioned that they had notified every school district in McHenry County. The Northwest Herald published a 6-column spread on this event, but it didn't publish it until this morning and then it was placed on Page 4C. Principled Minds had hoped for publicity in the Northwest Herald last week but didn't get it.

Apart from one MCC class that showed up for a while (perhaps about the amount of time remaining in the class after the program's 7:00PM starting time), there were only about 6-8 adults in the audience.

The panel included a school administrator, a teacher, a youth worker from Youth Service Bureau, a single mother of two young students, and a 20-year-old MCC student.

The mother described a lengthy period of bullying of her older daughter, now 9, in an elementary school in Crystal Lake. School officials and Crystal Lake police took little interest, except for one Crystal Lake officer. Only the mother's persistence finally got results, then coupled with a good counselor and social worker at the child's school. The bully? Another girl in the class.

The MCC student described years of being bullied in Woodstock District 200. He commented how one of the vice-deans ignored physical contact-bullying in the halls, yet confiscated a bottle of soda from a different student.

I am personally and intimately familiar with one District 200 student's experience with bullying from 5th Grade through 9th Grade. What I hadn't realized was that the bullying was not only by other students, but also by District employees. When the school tried to figure out the reason for poor attendance, a Functional Behavior Assessment was attempted.

I say "attempted", because the six-week study resulted in useless data. When I complained directly to the Superintendent, she ordered a consultant from the Illinois State Board of Education. The consultant could only visit the school one day for four hours, but in that short time period of visiting the student's classes she observed, and later reported in an IEP Team meeting, that staff and teacher "interacted inappropriately with the student which resulted in an increase in undesirable behavior."

To which I said, "Oh, you mean 'bullying'!"

Parents must find out about bullying. Create an atmosphere of trust with your child, so that your child can tell you what is really going on at school. And make sure that your child has someone at school he can trust and talk to. And then get on the school like flies on honey, and stick to them until the bullying is stopped.

And document, document, document. Write everything done.

If you are a parent of any student in a McHenry County, Illinois school (special education or not), tomorrow call the principal of your child's school and find out why you didn't get a notice about tonight's meeting at MCC (if you didn't get a notice).

How many students are there in McHenry County? Tomorrow I'll find out. If notices had gone home to every household or if they had been distributed via email to parents, wouldn't you think that there might have been 50-100-200 parents at MCC tonight?

Contact Principled Minds at 227 North Throop Street, Woodstock, IL 60098 or by telephone at 815/337-0550.

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