Bullying concerns discussed in Massena

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MASSENA — A member of the Massena Central School Board of Education says he’s concerned about stories he’s heard of alleged bullying and sexual harassment in the district, and the student representative to the board says he thinks the amount of bullying could potentially increase during the new school year.

Board member Robert LeBlanc said he has heard about bullying, harassment and sexual harassment and wondered if there was data on the number of reported incidents.

“It came to my attention from people close to me that there’s a lot of bullying in this area, harassment and also sexual harassment,” he said. “I would like to see data on that, so I was wondering if we had data on that and if we do annual surveys on all kids if they were victims of this or if they saw something so we could see if it’s something that’s increasing in frequency and if we need to address that, or if it’s just stories that are true or not.”

Mr. LeBlanc said he had heard that a student who was one of the top of the class was going to leave the district because of the situation.

Superintendent Patrick Brady said that while they don’t specifically do a survey on bullying, the district does have a climate survey that’s conducted every year, which asks questions about the school climate.

“Some of those questions are related to bullying at each school, but it’s not specifically about bullying. They also have a chance to comment, so we do have those results that we can go through. Principals have that information and share it with staff,” said. “I think that our teachers, our principals and our staff deal with bullying and harassment as they have before. Do I think it’s on the increase, more than what we’ve seen before? I don’t have evidence of that.”

Mr. Brady said programs are in place to address bullying. Among those is Link Crew, a high school program in which seniors act as mentors for incoming freshmen during the school year. Other efforts include positivity and character education programs.

“We have a bullying hotline that’s on our web page that a student could anonymously put something in there. Rarely does it occur that they do, but when they do we deal with it,” he said.

“It’s certainly hard to come forward when you’re the victim,” Mr. LeBlanc said.

Board member Loren Fountaine said he wasn’t sure a survey would address the situation.

“I don’t know if I agree that a survey itself would be the answer. I believe letting people know how to come forward and who to come forward to and making sure that those are confidential procedures, and then making sure that those things are followed up on. I do believe our school does a good job of that,” he said.

Mr. Brady said that Under the Dignity for All Students Act, they have a legal obligation to address a situation when a student comes forward to report bullying or harassment. They would fill out a form and he said it goes through a formal process.

The state Education Department says that DASA “seeks to provide the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.”

“We talk about DASA every year with our teachers and take it seriously. I think by and large they do. I know they do,” Mr. Brady said. “Short of that, teachers and staff are dealing with getting kids to get along with each other, not to bully, not to harass and so forth all the time. I think that’s an ongoing thing where we have to just continue to put in programs like that and deal with it on a daily basis and deal with it directly.”

Logan Dobbins, the new student representative on the board, said he feared bullying could become more of an issue in the upcoming school year.

“With this year, we’re bringing back kids five days a week. So you’re talking about more volume of students and bullying is going to come back because these kids haven’t seen each other for a year. I’ve seen it just this summer, the fact that we’re starting to hang out more this summer getting ready for the school year. Bullying is becoming more prevalent, and I think that’s something we need to watch as the year goes on because cyberbullying is a really big problem this summer. But once you bring everybody back five days a week, they’re going to see each other every single day in school and you’re going to see an uptick again,” he said.

Mr. Dobbins said it was a subject of conversation during Link Crew training.

“Everybody’s starting to see it, and they want it to stop before the school year begins,” he said.

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