PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

Fighting bullying: Communication key, Suski says; MASD holds forum for parents, students

By Laura Hayes

Posted 10/31/18

More than 33 percent of Middletown Area School District sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders said they were bullied in 2017, according to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey.

October is National …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Fighting bullying: Communication key, Suski says; MASD holds forum for parents, students


More than 33 percent of Middletown Area School District sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders said they were bullied in 2017, according to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and on Oct. 24, MASD and Middletown Crime Watch joined forces to offer a bullying prevention program for parents and students. They were split into two sessions.

Two of the 40 parents in attendance were Shannon Rico and Lori Grimland. They have four children in the district. Rico said their children have been bullied. 

“They feel as if their voices aren’t being heard. I think that needs to change,” Rico said.

In an interview, MASD Superintendent Lori Suski called good communication with the schools paramount.

“The school personnel cannot address situations they are not aware of,” Suski said.

During the program, some parents expressed concern about how some of the schools handle bullying. 

While Rico and Grimland felt the talk was a good start, Rico said they had hoped to address the perception of who could be a bully and her concern that some children receive special treatment.

“It’s a beginning of a line of communication. Let’s talk about it,” Rico said.

The Pennsylvania Youth Survey is taken every two years and collects data on a variety of topics, including bullying.

The number of students who reported being bullied in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade went up from 23.1 percent in 2015 to 33.4 percent in 2017.

In 2017, 27.1 percent of the surveyed students indicated that they were bullied on school property. Most of the students said they were bullied rarely, though some reported being bullied on a daily basis.

“The goal is, what are the tools that we can give the kids to protect themselves or to support other students or to stop bullying behavior,” Sally Canazaro, Safe Schools coordinator with the Center for Safe Schools, said in an interview.

Canazaro’s colleague and fellow Safe Schools coordinator Leah Galkowski shared tips on how students can respond to bullying as bystanders, and Canazaro, who led the parent portion, provided information about bullying and laws and school requirements.

“I know many of the parents at the program expressed frustration with certain buildings’ responses to bullying concerns. As Ms. Canazaro told parents, ‘If you do not get the response you are seeking from the principal, then direct your concerns to the district office,’” Suski said.

Bullying by the numbers

Bullying takes a number of shapes — cyberbullying, spreading rumors, excluding someone from activities or being physically aggressive.

Cyberbullying makes headlines, but Canazaro said it’s usually accompanied by other forms of bullying. Physical bullying still exists, and Canazaro said during the past 10 years, physical aggression has become more common with female bullies.

In the PAYS report, a majority of MASD students said the bullies insulted them, called them names or caused other forms of emotional abuse. Threats were another common form of bullying, and 16.5 percent of students said they were physically injured.

Students indicated a number of reasons why they were bullied, including the color of their skin, religion, accent, the country either they or their family was from, money and social standing, gender, grades, sexual orientation and disability.

The most common reason was height or weight (38.2 percent), looks (37.5 percent) or some other reason (44.9 percent).

In the PAYS report, just more than 70 percent of students said adults at school stopped the bullying when they either witnessed or were informed of it.

According to Suski, if a student is being bullied, they should immediately inform a teacher or other adult, and the teacher will investigate and address the issue depending on the severity.

The principal should be contacted if it requires administrative intervention. Suski said parents can call the principal to report bullying, and principals are required to investigate all bullying reports and document any remedies.

“I will tell you right now, if you feel that the teacher, the counselor, the principal is not hearing what you’re saying, you need to be that broken record and take it to the next level,” Suski told parents.

Suski said she has mediated conversations between children’s parents in the past. Some of the parents said they didn’t know the bullying had occurred and vowed to help, she recalled.

According to MASD’s policy on bullying and cyberbullying, consequences could include counseling in or out of the school; a conference with parents; mental health or drug and alcohol assessment; losing school privileges; transferring to a different building, class or bus; exclusion from school-sponsored activities; detention; suspension; expulsion; threat assessment; and referral to law enforcement.

What can parents do

There are ways to tell if a student is being bullied. Canazaro said some of the indicators are damaged clothing or possessions, a drop in grades or complaints of headaches or stomachaches. In some cases, the child might not be as social as they once were or want to stay home and not go to school or other activities.

What should parents do if they notice this behavior?

“Open communication with your child is No. 1,” Canazaro said.

Parents, she said, need to keep their emotions in check when talking with their child, because the child will mimic the parent’s response. Canazaro suggested meeting with a school counselor and finding an adult at the school that the child could talk to, such as a past teacher or staff member. Communication with the school is important, she said.

If the child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to their parents or guardians, Canazaro said the parents should find an adult that the child feels comfortable with.

Some parents remarked that the classroom teachers are busy and might be unable to immediately stop the lesson to investigate the bullying.

Canazaro said while teachers are busy, she said it is a teacher’s responsibility to make the classroom safe. She suggested that teachers could intervene in the moment and address the issue after class.

Teachers should be trained and given tools to address bullying in the classroom, Canazaro told parents.

“It’s important to teach teachers to be aware of what is happening in their classrooms and noticing what is happening in their classrooms,” she said.

The district recently adopted a new social and emotional learning program called Positive Action, which includes a bullying prevention kit.

Suski said in some cases, Positive Action has helped reduce bullying by 51 percent.

Suski said she planned to continue to talk about bullying and offer similar events.