Two recent workshops for parents focused on the issue. The workshops were not triggered by any serious incidents, but were spurred by the general realization that "in our district, as in other districts, bullying does occur," said Mountain View Whisman Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Totter, who said the district was aiming to be "proactive."
A major goal is to help kids defend themselves against bullies.
But Erica Pelavin, a psychologist and Parents Place employee, said that children who are bullied should not feel they have to bear the burden on their own.
"Our kids want us to understand that these things are important to them," she said, as she led the English-language session April 29 at Crittenden Middle School.
Pelavin said children should be "upstanders," who stand up for peers who are being bullied, rather than "bystanders." Upstanders can eliminate the emotional rewards for bullies. Bystanders, by watching their peers get bullied, tacitly encourage bullying behavior. Eighty-five percent of bullying episodes involve more than just a bully and their target, she said.
"The bystander not only encourages the bully but is at risk of becoming desensitized to cruelty," she said.
Some parents attended the Thursday meeting to see if their own children might be bullies. One Mountain View parent, who asked not to be named, was worried that her elementary-school-age daughter was bullying her peers. She said it was the first time bullying had been "openly addressed" by the school.
Mountain View parent Sharon Glouster said having children participate in a similar workshop would help parents and teachers discuss bullying with them.
"It would be ideal if the kids can get educated too, so we can use the same language with them," she said.
Mountain View parent Angie Cortez said she attended the meeting because she is worried that her elementary-school-age daughter was the one being bullied.
"Everything's so focused on the tests, but we have to teach about friendship as well," she said.
Other parents — like Mountain View resident Judy Zellers — attended for less personal reasons. Zellers' children, who are in the fourth, seventh and tenth grades at Mountain View schools, are not being bullied. But even a single bullying problem can be too much for that child's parents to handle alone, she said.
"The more people who are aware of it, the easier it will be to solve," she said.
The district has been working since August with Parents Place, a Bay Area family counseling group that provided the presenters for last weeks' workshops. The purpose was to find ways of teaching parents, teachers, administrators and students how to recognize and deal with bullying, Totter said. All of the district's teachers and support staff have participated in the "Breaking the Cycle of Bullying" workshop since then, she said.
Parents Place Maria Alvarez ran the April 27 workshop, a Spanish-language presentation which about 40 people attended, many of whom were glad it was in Spanish , she said
Many of the parents were "very engaged," she said, adding that they asked questions and pointed out problems they were having.
While most of the presentation covered the same material as the English-language one, Alvarez said she added some cultural elements to address bullying issues unique to Spanish-speaking families. Some Latino families encourage their children to speak Spanish at home, while others prefer that their children speak English as much as possible, she said.
These linguistic differences can lead to bullying behavior, she said.
"Even if you are Latino, you can be bullied by people from your same social group," she said.
Relationships between children from different ethnic backgrounds can also lead to bullying behavior, she said.
"We need to teach kids how to be respectful, seeing how this is such a diverse community," she said.
Cultural differences can also affect the parents of children who are being bullied, Alvarez said. Many district staff members speak Spanish, but many Latino parents come from cultures in which parents typically are not involved with their children's schools, she said.
"Latino parents are not used to challenging a school authority. It's a cultural issue," she said.
Alvarez said one attendee — the mother of a 15-year-old daughter who was being bullied at school — felt uncomfortable after speaking to school administrators three or four times with no luck.
"She started crying while she was explaining this," Alvarez said.
In addition to learning to identify symptoms of bullying relationships in their children, Latino parents need to feel empowered enough to report such problems, she said.
"I told them 'You have a right to express your concerns or problems to teachers, administrators or people at the district office until the problems are taken care of," she said.
Totter said she suggests that parents become active at their children's schools.
The district released a protocol just before last month's spring break that defines bullying and establishes how school and district staff must respond when bullying is reported, Totter said.
This bullying protocol is the first time the district has outlined how it will respond to bullying incidents. It defines bullying as "a conscious, willful, repeated and deliberately hostile act(s) intended to inflict pain, discomfort, embarrassment and/or induce fear."
Bullying will be treated differently than other conflicts and the district will monitor bullying reports to see if any trends emerge, Totter said.
Totter said ongoing staff changes will make it hard to ensure all district staff members are trained about the new bullying protocol. Determining the best way to monitor bullying reports in the coming year will also be a challenge, she said.
"I don't think bullying is going to go away," but the district can be "better equipped about how to handle it and how to deal with it and how to minimize it," Totter said.