Kallhoff clarifies bullying policy

Following the death of a student who was said to be bullied and other parents who have voiced concerns, the Demopolis City School System is looking to communicate more clearly its processes when it comes to handling bullying at school.

The school system has two primary documents that pertains to bullying, one being within the system’s policy manual and the other part within its code of conduct.

“The code of conduct is a document that goes home with each student each school year. The policy manual involves the procedures, approved by the school board, in how the system handles things, whether it be at our central office or at the schools,” Kallhoff said.

The policy manual is too large to send home with students, but it is available on the system’s website or may be viewed at the central office.

Section 5.28 of the Policy Manual deals with bullying and is titled “Student Harassment Prevention.” That policy states that “No student shall engage in or be subjected to harassment, violence, threats of violence or intimidation by any other student that is based on any of the specific characteristics that have been identified by the Demopolis City Board of Education in this policy. Students who violate this policy are subject to disciplinary action.” The policy is about two-and-a-half pages long and includes definitions of harassment as well as procedures for reporting incidents.

A complaint of harassment, according to the policy, must be made on a board-approved complaint form available at a school’s principal or counselor offices.  It must be signed by the student or by the student’s parent or guardian.

Once the complaint is received, school officials will determine whether the complaint “alleges a serious complaint of (the) policy” and will undertake an investigation of the complaint.

The second document, the Code of Conduct, addresses consequences of violations of school policies. Regarding bullying, the first offense calls for parent contact and “school designated disciplinary action.” The number of offenses determines the discipline a student receives, which could include out-of-school suspension.

Earlier this year, the system added “bullying via social media that disrupts school” as part of its bullying definition.

Since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, up through the 2018 winter break, Kallhoff said the system has had a total of 19 students referred to the office for harassment/bullying.

Students who feel they are being harassed will fill out a form that initiates an investigation by the school officials.

“Our website has these forms, and basically if you feel you were bullied, (the school system) needs the student to fill it out so we can find out what is going on. A child will fill it out and the first place it goes to is the guidance counselor to see if it can be handled there. If not, it will go to administration and they will investigate,” Kallhoff said.

If a parent calls in a complaint to the system, school officials will first speak to the student making the complaint. Among the first things officials will attempt to determine is whether the incidents are “ongoing and persistent,” according to Kallhoff.

Kallhoff said speaking with students will often bring about different stories, which could lead to seeking help of parents.

“Sometimes you get a lot of stories and we will need to get the parents involved, asking them for their help in sorting out who is bullying who and making it clear that we need it to come to an end,” Kallhoff said.

Bullying that happens off campus should be reported to the police department.

“A lot of times we find that bullying begins outside of the school, sometimes through social media, and it spills over into the school. That is one reason we changed our code of conduct this year to say that if harassment is done via social media, and it disrupts the function of the school, we’re going to address it,” he said.

If a parent calls the school to make a complaint, Kallhoff said that parent will be contacted to let them know it has been addressed. However, the system will not reveal any discipline that the accused may receive.

“We may call and say, ‘we can’t see where this is taking place, but we’ll continue to watch.’ Sometimes we may need to connect those parents; if we’re not seeing it at school, maybe they need to get together and address it at home,” Kallhoff said.

If a parent speaks to a teacher, a teacher will report it to an administrator or counselor. If it is a one-time incident, a teacher may handle it, but if it is ongoing and persistent it will go to administration.

In dealing with bullying, Kallhoff said the school system has programs at each school aimed at building self-esteem and character. Westside Elementary and U.S. Jones each have the Leader in Me program, which teaches habits like ‘listening before acting’ and understanding others’ points of view.

“Westside is in its second year of this program and U.S. Jones is in its first year. The purpose of this program is to have what we thought would be a positive cultural shift of building self esteem in our kids. Part of that is empathy toward others and understanding others,” Kallhoff said.

The middle school will be initiating the Leader in Me program next year with students using an advisory period to work on social skills. There is a peer helper program that began last February and the school is participating in a Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development program.

“There are things we are doing. It’s never enough and we always want to get better. We don’t want to be complacent,” Kallhoff said.

To do things better, the superintendent said he would like to have meetings with parents and the community to discuss the bullying issue.

“I would like to organize some meetings where we would have conversations about bullying and to help our schools better define it, which, for the schools, must including ongoing and persistent. We need to get to the root cause of the problem,” he said. “We need to find ways of working with parents and the community because this is not just a school issue. How can we reinforce talking kind to each other? Are we setting the right examples as adults? We need to be aware of what our children have access to … are they making fun of people on social media? We need community input on this.”

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, January 2 issue of the Demopolis Times.)