Battle begins to combat bullying | May 7, 2010 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - May 7, 2010

Battle begins to combat bullying

MV Whisman's goal is to help students defend themselves

by Martin Sanchez

The Mountain View Whisman School District has taken up an unprecedented campaign against bullying in hopes of creating a safer, more respectful atmosphere in local schools.

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.


Posted by Terri Gamble, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Does anybody wonder why Trustees approved to move MVWSD Strategic Goal #6 to #2 last year?
MVWSD's New Strategic Goal #2: Operate with integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and Transparency.

Thank you to the Mountain View Voice for continuing to share information with the community, so we can continue to be informed of behavior and views held by MVWSD Administrators.

My friends...My community...Please take this opportunity to TAKE A STAND and let MVWSD know how many children you have and how many of your children you expect MVWSD to keep safe while they are at school.

For all of the parents who have a child who has been a target of bullying in MVWSD District...and for all of the parents who have a child who has demonstrated a Bully Behavior that has hurt another child in MVWSD...and for all the parents of children who watched any incidents where another child was harmed in MVWSD...and for all the parents who have a child who has not had any related experience thus far...

Let's take a stand and refrain from Bully Behavior in the responses to this article(which all of our children might read)...

Lets take a stand that a single child injured as the result of being the Target of Bully Behavior is a serious situation...Let's take a stand that a single child dropping out of school(as statistics suggest the number is high for those who exhibit Bully Behavior) is a serious situation...

Let's hold our MVWSD Administrators accountable for ensuring the safety of our children and lets offer support for the many MVWSD Teachers who go out of their way to ensure our children have a safe place to learn. The comment by Judy Zellers was amazing and we are so thankful for the Judy Zellers of the world, the "upstanders", who understand that the ones NOT directly involved are possibly the ones most able to support safe schools and safe communities.

If your child has been injured while MVWSD was responsible for ensuring they were safe, or if your child has injured another and was reprimanded without additional support for positive change, and especially if your child has never been involved...please join me in taking a stand that we expect more for our children and our community!

As long as district administration shares, especially in print(even if statistically true) that they do not think Bullying will go away...we are guaranteed that a percentage of our children will continue to be injured...

It is the responsibility of MVWSD to ensure that our children are safe when they are at school. Lets take a stand by sharing(direct or anonymously) the number of children in our family we expect MVWSD to keep hopes that MVWSD Trustees will take the safety of our children seriously and replace administrators who are willing to accept any injury to our children as acceptable! A goal and expectation of 100%(voiced and in practice) for child safety might not be met, but at least we would know for certain that MVWSD was setting an expectation that all of our children will be safe at school while MVWSD is responsible for their safety and well-being.


Posted by Teacher, a resident of another community
on May 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Totter is one to talk. She is the biggest bully of them all the way she treats teachers.

Posted by MV mom, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 8, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Bullying has been an issue in our schools for quite some time and the district has known about it, so Ms. Totter's comment that they are being "proactive" is not true. There are serious issues on our campuses that need to be dealt with swiftly, with ongoing support for the kids (both the bully and the bullied). I'm glad to see that the district has provided parents with the recent workshops on bullying, but there needs to be more. The children have NOT been educated enough about what bullying is and what to do in a situation with a bully. The teachers and the administration also need to know how to handle bullying situations appropriately. Ms. Totter's final comment that "I don't think bullying is going to go away," is unacceptable.

I have one child in MVWSD and I expect the district to keep my child safe.

Posted by MV mom, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 8, 2010 at 9:25 pm

To start the article by saying that the workshops were not triggered by any serious incidents not only sounds defensive, it reveals that MVWSD does not understand what is happening in our schools. I commend them for offering these important and critical educational opportunities for parents (and hope more continues with teachers and students), but it would also be helpful to be fully honest about the problems and take a stronger and more responsible view about stopping them. Our children's safety should be a top priority.

Posted by MV mom, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 8, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Any chance the MVWSD could strive for and achieve a "zero tolerance" policy for bullying behavior in our schools? Each and every one of our children deserves a safe school environment, FREE FROM INTIMIDATION AND BULLYING. Why should we settle for anything short of this goal?

Posted by MV Mom, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I have one child in the MVWSD and I expect the district to keep my child and all the other children in the district safe.

Posted by another MV parent, a resident of Rex Manor
on May 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm

"MV Whisman's goal is to help students defend themselves". This statement shows that MVWSD is not likely to do anything to change the bullies' behavior. Classic "blaming the victim" for the crime mentality. Is this like 50 years ago when a dad would teach his kid how to box so he could defend himself against the playground bully? Shouldn't it be the bully that has to change his behavior since the child being bullied has done nothing wrong?

I agree with the above poster that this is not a PROactive move. It's definitely REactive.

Posted by Judy Zellers, a resident of Rex Manor
on May 8, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Although our children are not currently targets of bullying, we have lived through it in the past (starting as early as 2nd grade), and it was very frustrating and painful trying to put a stop to it on our own and getting nowhere.

It's good that the district is finally acknowledging and trying to solve these problems with teacher training and parent workshops. I'm also pleased that the district is using Dr. Pelavin as a resource. She's very knowledgeable and insightful, caring and compassionate, yet upbeat about finding solutions. It's too bad the workshop I went to wasn't better attended (maybe 50 people were there)--it is a busy time of year, with a school chorus concert that same time that night, among other things, I'm sure.

Workshops for teachers, staff, parents, and yard duties (in my experience, most bullying at school occurs on the playground) should be held at the beginning of the upcoming--and every--school year, when there aren't so many school events. It would be ideal to set the tone at the start of the school year to quash the bullying before it gets going.

Sharon Gloster's suggestion of student workshops would be great too--educating kids in empathy and empowering them to make a difference would be valuable lessons.

And by the way...I expect the districts (MVWSD and MVLA) to keep all my children safe--physically and emotionally.

Posted by Jeff Gamble, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 9, 2010 at 12:48 am

I have three children and I expect MVWSD to keep my children and all children in the district safe.

Posted by Big Al, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 9, 2010 at 6:57 am

Heaven help these kids when they get out into the real adult world and face bullies. Just pull on to the freeway and you'll get a taste of it. Maybe we should go back to the days when we taught our kids to defend themselves. Oh wait, it's against the rules for a kid to defend himself, more so than to bully. Look what we've created.

Posted by MV Mom, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 9, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I'm glad to see the district is FINALLY talking out loud about this issue. There have been serious incidents that MVWSD is fully aware of. It's unfortunate that they took such a cowardly stance as to actually say there haven't been incidents. How incredibly hurtful and insulting to those families who are much too aware of these incidents! Clearly parents are on board and wish, not only to reduce the occurrence but actually eliminate the possibilities. Yes!! Excellent! MVWSD, you have now made yourselves accountable-out loud. Now of course, you already knew it was your responsibility to keep our children safe anyway. Right?! Can we agree, to take this further, in the context it needs to be considered with an appropriate sense of urgency in order to make a difference in the 2010/11 school year? Can MVWSD enforce a strict no tolerance policy on bullying district wide? Can we begin the year with additional workshops for parents, as someone suggested? Perhaps schools can provide in school classes/workshops for the children at the very beginning of the year. Let's address the potential bully, bullied and "upstander". Self protection is excellent. Prevention is better. Help educate our children to the many levels of bullying and the potential reasons a bully may choose such behavior. Is it way too naive to think we can prevent a bully from bullying by providing them with tools to help them otherwise handle/channel their aggressive, insecure etc. feelings? If so, then let's let them know we won't tolerate the behavior anymore and make all the MVWSD schools Bully-Free Schools. I have 2 children and I am relying on MVWSD to keep them safe.

Posted by parent, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Parents at our elementary school have for years been lamenting the fact that our kids receive next to nothing in the way of social skills, peer conflict resolution, anti-bullying, etc. Finally the district is seeing that maybe they need to teach something that is not on THE TEST? There are some excellent social skills programs at individual schools and in some classrooms, but it's not been district-wide at all.

I agree with the above and hope that Ms. Totter just had an unfortunate choice of words to say that she does not think bullying will go away. The district has a zero tolerance policy for weapons and drugs, why not bullying? It is the legal responsibility of public schools to keep children safe.

I expect MVWSD to ensure the safety of EVERY child.

Posted by Sid, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 10, 2010 at 6:55 am

It's all about leadership, and this district is wanting for it. When does Ghysels leave? No body knows.

Posted by parent, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Since November people have been asking "when is Ghysels leaving?" and there has been not a peep from the district.

Children may ignore what adults say, but they will always notice what they do. A good start would be for the trustees and district office administrators to treat parents and teachers with respect. That means not just talking about respect, trust, transparency, inclusiveness and all that good stuff, but actually doing it instead of nodding politely and then totally disregarding what parents and teachers are saying.

Posted by jane, a resident of North Whisman
on May 10, 2010 at 3:05 pm

To Big Al,
Children need to be taught about bullying - adults driving on the freeway are a distant jump from kids who are not held accountable for their actions. Perhaps every "bully" on the highway is not held accountable, but there are still rules and laws for those who are caught. Our children deserve the same protection from bullies as we expect on the highways from those who abuse their privilege to drive.
Years ago I moved one of my sons from Graham Middle School with an intradistrict transfer - he has having lunch dumped on his head everyday, money stolen, and being beaten up. Sadly, there was no program in place - the solution was to tolerate it or pull the student from the school.
This needs to start from the top down - getting rid of teachers who bully and training EVERYONE involved in the education system as to what is acceptable and what isn't. When we were kids we expected the adults at school to protect us and keep us safe, and this generation of students deserves the same.

Posted by Big Al, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 10, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I agree, but we need to strike a balance. Kids will bully at many levels--and sometimes its the kids you'd least expect. I don't agree with zero tolerance. I do agree with intervention as well as addressing the why as to how certain kids develop into bullies. Sometimes the parents are too blame, sometimes the teachers (Polifrone?), sometimes the adminstrators fail to catch something. But to enact a zero tolerance attitude is unrealistic. Kids in school--even bullies--deserve the chance to be learn from their behavior. This is no to diminish their affect on the victims, only even the victims need to come to terms with the fact that the world can be pretty cruel at times. BTW, I was bullied in both middle and high school.

Posted by Disappointed, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 10, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I agree that eliminating bullying needs to start from the top down. Unfortunately, the admistration (Ghysels, Lairon, Totter) use bullying tactics to get what THEY want done in the district.

"bullying" -repeated acts over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power

Has Totter protected incompetent principals and also teachers & principals who bully personnel and students in the past?

Has Lairon been open to teachers and parent's input on curriculum? Does she talk a good game but there is no substance? Does the district have leveled curriculum to help ALL levels of students YET?

Does Ghysels do whatever he feels like doing (inappropriate relationships with staff and tell those below him it is okay) and suffer no consequences?

MVWSD Admin. has a history of an imbalance of power. The people at the top have to set examples for the ones below. Until MVWSD cleans house at the top, bullying will continue to be tolerated in all forms.

Posted by Christine, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

HINDSIGHT, I only wish.
If I had hindsight, My husband and I would have NEVER enrolled our children in MVWSD.

My Short Version - 1. when you have district and school leaders making excuses for, covering up and hiding bullying. 2. When you have other parents justifying the bullying - all because their child was not bullied. When the district is to concerned with *image, *budget, *reputation *state testing scores* to care and support the students and take action to protect the victims.... Bullies are not going anywhere!!

Longer version for those that are bored....
8 years ago, I was one of the biggest supporters of Huff Love. My husband and I loved how safe we felt with our children at school.
When the issue Bullying came up, we were completely inexperienced with dealing with any of it. Unfortunately our daughter suffered and is still affected by her experience 3 years later.(Thanks Craig)
She was abused/bullied by a teacher that MANY, many,(too many) knew to be abusive. The bullying continued by the children in class, that witnessed the teacher bullying children. I spoke with Craig Goldman, Stephanie Totter, and Maurice Ghysel on many occasions in person, by email and on the phone.... they did absolutely NOTHING.
The only way I can justify their actions or non-actions is "Lack of Spine".
They may have talked to her and told her not to yell quite so loud, but she was still there at 8am the next morning abusing and bullying her weakest students. I can understand the concern of the spanish speaking community in above article, because the next year this teacher seemed to have quite a lot of spanish speaking students. I can only assume it was because they would be less likely to say anything to their parents and also for the parents to speak up.
When I saw that, my faith and trust in the safety and caring at our schools had disappeared...
I have 4 children, and 3 of them are at Huff and Graham. I have watched as their educational needs, and safety have been pushed aside because...... well I am still trying to figure this out. I think it is budget and state testing. Those seem to be at the top of the list, at least from what we have personally experienced.

FYI Bullying happens everywhere... before and after school, in line for lunch, in classrooms, at break with many other students watching and doing nothing to help.

Facts....(really long version for those that can't sleep)
In the past 2 1/2 years I have had student that (on separate occasions) was pushed,
punched in the stomach,
slapped in the face and
run over by a bicyclist on purpose.
We have had 3 back packs stolen, one from a class room, the library and the gym on a rainy day. We have had to replace backpacks, and entire contents every time, oh and we had to pay for new PE uniforms also.
My other student has been bullied, and teased, pushed at Graham. When she was hit in the face this year by another girl she did not want to say anything. When we finally got her to stand up for herself and we met with Gretchen and Mr. Verduzco. They were clearly more concerned with covering them selves legally than ANYTHING my daughter experienced, or had to say. The next morning my daughter was suppose to sit right next to "the Hitter" in another class - nothing had been done yet again, teacher was completely unaware. SAFE? No, so she stayed home and emailed her teachers and worked from home... Then the office was kind enough to report her as truant for those 2 unexcused absences...Safe? Oh, I forgot to mention the ipods that have been stolen from pe lockers - but my daughter was told by that it was her fault that hers was stolen.
I guess that my point (sorry so long winded) is that when I read that Stephanie Totter says
""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,". I BELIEVE IT. Their VALUES seem to have changed (or disappeared) from our students loving to learn, being happy and feeling safe to "Huff is a "10", and raising state testing scores.
When your Superintendent, CFO, HR Rep, Principal, other Principal and Vice Principal don't have what it takes to stand up for or even recognized BULLYING (Mrs. P still on vacation?) ... then yes Stephanie, you are brilliant-it is not going to go away.

We have some awesome teachers that listen to and stand up for our kids, but unfortunately we have some newer teachers that are clueless because they have role models like Craig, Maurice, and Stephnie... and they now see nothing wrong.

MVWSD is not going to ensure anyones safety... they don't even take responsibility for a back pack.. YOU need to talk to your kids about bullying, what to do if it happens to them or if they witness i. Follow your gut if you think something is wrong don't be afraid to speak up...(no matter what language). If you speak up someone will listen. Children are children, it does not matter who made them. If they are being treated poorly, bullied, or scared stand up for them and protect them. It is wrong! Another School Rule is not going to make kids safe. Parents need to stick together and let the bullies and the schools know we are watching not going to stand for it.

I have 3 children in MVWSD and I was a FOOL for thinking they were going to protect my kids.

Posted by Christine, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 10, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Do I win a prize for having the longest comment ever on the Voice?

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 11, 2010 at 8:06 am

Well said, Christine. Good insight we can all learn from. The district leadership is definitely spineless.

Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 11, 2010 at 10:37 am

Anyone who cares about bullying and wants to focus on solutions should take a look at this link to successful schools that prioritize social emotional learning:
Web Link

We need to model for our children that when problems arise we work with each other to come up with better ideas.

Posted by ML mom, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I have 2 kids in MVWSD and every day I pray that they are safe. Although there have been times that I know they have not been safe, I feel like I don't have any other viable options for school and I'm afraid of repercussions from administration for speaking up too often.

Posted by castro mom, a resident of another community
on May 11, 2010 at 11:39 pm

My daughter was ridiculed by a classmate, and when I told the principal she did something. I am not letting fear keep me from standing up for my daughter, even though it can be scary. This is my kid, I will do all I can to keep her safe in school.

Posted by castro mom, a resident of another community
on May 11, 2010 at 11:41 pm

well said, Christine.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I am glad the district has been implementing anti-bullying programs. I don't know what they can realistically do to completely prevent it. There's the overt, physical bullying, and the more subtle, social-isolation type that girls are especially good at, from around 4th grade on. It's not always easy to identify or to prevent. However, the posts here imply that MVWSD is somehow a hotbed of bullying and if your kids only went to a different district, or to private school, they would have had not problems, or the administrators would have leapt at the chance to fix any problem that occurred. Not necessarily true. Bullying occurs everywhere, dealing with it is problematic everywhere. As a child I was very badly bullied in my small private school, it was a terrible situation. And nothing was done about it there, either. I am not saying that any sort of bullying is OK -- at least one of my kids experienced it to one degree or another, at both Huff and Graham, and I think every school and district should constantly be working with kids on this topic, and take parents' and kids' complaints of bullying seriously and address each case. I just don't think it's fair to paint the district with the broad brush of "bullying capital of California."

Posted by Liz, a resident of another community
on May 14, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I agree, but I also think it's ridiculous that many parents assume teachers/administrators aren't already doing all they can with the zero tolerance policy. I am not a parent, but I work in schools and work closely with teachers and principals. I can see the different side of it. Of course all parents want a safe environment for their children. If you haven't already, I suggest you spend a few hours volunteering in your child's classroom. This may ease some of your anxieties.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Most just need reflect back on the case of Ms. Polifrone setting an example as a teacher bully to comprehend how poorly the district administration has addressed bullying in the past. The track record is pretty poor no matter what size brush you try to paint with.

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