A new Lake County schools district-wide anti-bullying initiative has been instrumental in making it easier for students to report bullying, school officials said.
Implemented at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, the initiative provides an anti-bullying curriculum for each school, which is managed under the Safe Schools department.
The initiative is “comprehensive about educating about diversity and differences in students,” said Bill Mathias, school board member. “We have also made it easier for students to feel comfortable reporting it. Those students that feel threatened are coming forward.”
The initiative defines bullying so administrators know how to spot it wherever it takes place in the school, said Pam Beeler, program specialist for Safe Schools.
School officials have reported 28 cases of bullying so far this school year. That’s eight more than in the 2012-13 school year.
A number of highly publicized anti-bullying measures have been attempted in the school district in the last two years:
Two students at Carver Middle School have been trying for two years to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance club to prevent bullying.
Stormy Rich, an 18-year-old Umatilla High School student, intervened to stop bullying of a girl with mental disabilities on a bus. As a result, she was kicked off the bus.
In 2013, the Lake County School Board recognized Cypress Elementary students Kristopher Ganesh, Jamie Munoz and Marleen Ryan for starting Bully Blockers, an anti-bullying program that includes Buddy, a mailbox fashioned out of cardboard to look like a huge osprey, the school’s mascot. Students can use the mailbox to deposit notes with concerns and questions related to bullying.
Now, 15-year-old country singer Lizzie Sider is speaking on the issue locally, where is she is addressing more than 100 schools all over the state. On Wednesday, she is planning a presentation at Tavares Elementary School, and on Thursday she will give presentations at Seminole Springs Elementary in Eustis and Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont.
According to an article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal , Sider said the issue is important to her because “I had experience with bullying when I was in elementary school.”
The News-Journal reported that her father gave her advice when she was dreading going to school.
“Nobody has the power to ruin your day,” he told her, according to the News-Journal .
School officials said the hardest issue to confront currently is cyberbullying found on social media sites and in other areas on the Internet.
“It is very difficult for the school district to track it,” said Chris Patton, spokesman for the school district. “Many times, it is occurring off campus and after school hours.”
Stuart Klatte, president of the Lake County Education Association, agreed.
“That is a delicate balance, dealing with cyberbullying especially,” he said. “The schools have tried to take a stand and deal with it when they can.”
Bullying is a complex problem, and it is hard to gauge how big of an issue it is in Lake County, Klatte said.
“A lot of it is going to be follow through from the administrators after the report has been made by either the student or teacher who has knowledge of it,” he said of tackling each case of bullying.
Tod Howard, school board member, said because there are so many programs on bullying it is imperative “to identify which ones are working and which ones are not.
“Instead of doing all the programs, we need to identify which ones are working and make sure they are being resourced properly,” he said.