Massena schools to study bullying

After hearing concerns from a board of education member and a student, the Massena Central School District is conducting a school climate survey to gauge how students feel about topics such as bullying. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — After hearing concerns from a board of education member and a student, the Massena Central School District is conducting a school climate survey to gauge how students feel about topics such as bullying.

“At our September board meeting, there was some significant discussion about surveying students on school climate issues and bullying. We’ve done some work on this request since we last met,” Superintendent Patrick H. Brady told board members.

During the September meeting, board member Robert LeBlanc said he was concerned about stories he had heard of alleged bullying and sexual harassment in the district. Logan Dobbins, the student representative to the board, also shared his concern that the amount of bullying could potentially increase during the school year.

“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,” Mr. LeBlanc told board members in September. “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. Brady said during the board’s latest meeting that there had been collaboration between the high school and junior high school to come up with “the right survey instrument, a common survey and plans for how we would use the information when it’s completed.”

He said the high school’s Climate Character Education Committee had met to review past survey data and look at character education programs, as well as evaluate the survey instruments. Junior high Principal Amanda Zullo has also shared with the school board some instruments that she had found.

“They’re looking at a common one between the high school and the junior high, and that will be released soon,” Mr. Brady said.

He said the goal is to have a school climate presentation for the board in December, which will give the schools time to review the results before the presentation.

“While all that’s going on, we continue to provide support for our students,” he said. “We are seeing, as many schools are, an uptick in mental health issues as students come back. They’ve been out of school, many of them for over a year or it’s been hybrid, and schools are seeing some significant issues.”

Mr. Brady said the district has been proactive by adding a couple of social workers and adding a new character education program, the Positivity Project, which has anti-bullying as part of its message.

He said it was important to distinguish bullying from peer conflicts or accidents.

“I think an important part of this is understanding what bullying really is and what peer conflict is, or misunderstandings between students that our counselors deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “I think just the word bullying is bantered around quite a bit, and it has a significant, heavy value to it, and it’s a problem. It’s a problem we deal with, as well as those peer conflicts.”

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