Frequently Asked Questions About Bullying
- Does the school district have a bullying policy?
The State of New Jersey requires each school district to adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying. The Ramsey School District’s Policy (5145.2) is included in the student handbook, which has been distributed to all students.
What is the general expectation expressed in the policy?
The policy states:
“The Ramsey Board of Education expects pupils to treat each other with civility and respect, and will not tolerate acts of harassment, intimidation or bullying. Like other disruptive or violent behaviors, this conduct interferes with a pupil's ability to learn and a school's ability to educate its pupils in a safe environment. Students attending the Ramsey Public Schools are required to conform to reasonable standards of socially acceptable behavior; respect person, property and rights of others; obey constituted authority; and respond to those who hold that authority.”
- Does the school establish expectations regarding bullying?
On the first day of school in September, the principal and assistant principal meet with all of the students to provide expectations for behavior and academic effort. Bullying is defined, expectations are clearly presented, and consequences are explained. Expectations are reinforced in homeroom and in classrooms by each academic teacher. A poster explaining these expectations is posted in each classroom. Students view a series of educational videos that provide reinforcement of the expecations and strategies for addessing bullying related issues.
- What is the definition of bullying provided to students?
Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or a group repeatedly and intentionally trying to harm someone weaker or more vulnerable. It can involve direct attacks such as hitting, threatening, or intimidating, maliciously teasing and taunting, name calling, making sexual remarks, and stealing or damaging property, or more subtle, indirect attacks such as spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject or exclude someone. Students are directed not to harass or bully others using computer technology. Smith School does not permit students to use school technology (e.g. email) for purposes that are not educational. Email, cell phone use and texting, and social networking are not permitted during school hours.
- Is there a distinction between bullying and normal conflict?
The NJ Bar Foundation makes a distinction between bullying and normal conflict. Students (and adults) experience difference of opinion, differing points of view, accidental physical contact, changing friends and interests, and bantering. These may result in tensions among students. Occasionally conflict may involve aggressive interactions, partly for fun, as a form of self-assertion, and for the testing out of social relations and power. In the case of normal conflict, there is a good faith effort to solve problems, negative behaviors are not recurring, and the rights of students are not threatened. Bullying, on the other hand, is characterized by an imbalance of power, intentional effort to hurt, threat of physical or emotional aggression, and lack of remorse. Bullying is usually a repeated behavior. There is no desire or effort for conflict resolution.
- How common is bullying?
Research has shown that bullying is common during the middle school years. Schools that provide an educational program to prevent bullying are able to minimize bullying.
- How has Smith School addressed bullying?
The Smith School administration and teachers have been trained by the New Jersey Bar Foundation and other agenices and have studied current research and literature on this issue. A program has been developed during the past seven years to educate children and reduce bullying behaviors. Our Character Education Program fosters a positive school culture that models appropriate and ethical behavior, establishes positive student/teacher relationships, and encourages trust and belonging. Positive school culture and open communication are key components in preventing bullying. A series of bullying prevention lessons, activities, and events teach students how to recognize and report bullying, react appropriately to bullying, be a supportive peer bystander, and engage in conflict resolution. The Guidance Department implements lessons throughout the year to teach strategies that help students to respond appropriately and effectively to peer-to-peer teasing, and other hurtful behaviors. High school students, under the direction of Dr. Thumm (guidance supervisor) and Mrs. Schou (student assisatnce counselor) work with the middle school students to teach and support effective skills and strategies. A "Student Support Counselor" (Mrs. Caporuscio) works directly with middle school students who need additional support and guidance, which may include social skills development and more in-depth counseling. The general middle school curriculum supports anti-bullying efforts through the use of selected literature, topics, and themes that promote and reinforce positive social relationships, human rights, and an understanding of human behavior. The Middle School works with the Ramsey Police Department, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, and outside mental health agencies to provide education, support, and counseling. A program on Cyber-Safety and Cyber-Bullying was initiated in 2005-06 in partnership with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. A middle school parent education program was initiated in 2008-09.
- Should a parent report a“bullying” episode to the school administration?
It is very important that parents communicate to administrators immediately when bullying is reported to have occurred. Parents help the school to maintain a positive and safe school environment by reporting cases of bullying. Too often parents do not act on this information and make it more difficult for school personnel to address inappropriate behavior. Timely parent communication is strongly encouraged.
- Should parents and students fear retaliation when reporting bullying?
It is essential that parents and students help to maintain an environment where bullying is viewed as unacceptable, consistently addressed, and where support is provided. All reports are kept confidential to the extent possible. Retaliation in any form will be addressed severely. Students are encouraged to report bullying to their guidance counselor, who is trained in maintaining confidentiality and acts as an advocate for their counselees.
- What occurs when a parent or student reports a case of bullying?
Reported incidents are investigated in a thorough manner. A specific set of protocols are followed. In some cases the reported behavior can be quickly validated and appropriate consequences, follow-up, and remediation occurs. Parents are always contacted. In some cases, the circumstances are ambiguous or more complex. The investigation will continue, providing due process to all students involved, until responsibility can be substantiated. Every case of bullying is taken seriously and documented.
- In the case of physical assault, can parents be assured that their children are safe at school?
A set of procedures are followed by the school to ensure that a student is not a threat to himself or others. Policy provides that a student may be required to have a psychological evaluation that authorizes the student to return to the school setting. Consequences and remedial actions vary depending on the circumstances and nature of the situation. Ongoing follow-up, monitoring, counseling, and implementation of a behavior plan are instituted. The school works closely with the student’s family and other professionals to provide appropriate remediation. The school also works closely with the juvenile officer of the Ramsey Police Department in these cases.