What FBISD is doing to ensure a safe learning environment, and what you can do to protect your child
As teachers, administrators and parents work to provide a quality education for all Fort Bend students, they must also work to keep the learning environment safe and welcoming. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Fort Bend ISD is encouraging parents to look for signs that show a child may be being bullied or may be bullying others.
Definition of Bullying
Bullying, as defined by Texas state law (Education Code 37.0832), is
“engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means, or physical conduct that occurs on school property, at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, or in a vehicle operated by the district,” that physically harms a student or her property, or causes her to be in fear of harm and is persistent enough to create “an intimidating, threatening, or abusive education environment for a student.”
With the increase in technology and social media, bullying is now no longer just person-to-person physical aggression, but it also includes cyberbullying, the online targeting and intimidation of students.
District Efforts to Combat Bullying
As seen in the Fort Bend ISD Student and Parent Handbook and its Appendix – Freedom from Bullying Policy, the District has outlined specific guidelines for handling bullying on its campuses, explaining how students and teachers can report incidents of bullying and explaining what corrective and disciplinary action will be taken. Each campus has a designated administrator or principal who handles all bullying investigations and ensures that students are protected throughout the process.
Examples of bullying, outlined by the FBISD Board Policy, include:
One of the District’s core beliefs is that “we believe student success is best achieved in a supportive climate and safe environment,” and to support that, there are several District-wide programs in place.
Every campus has been designated as a “No Place for Hate” campus, an initiative by the Anti-Defamation League. As part of this program, student-led committees organize three programs each school year on each campus that support an inclusive, safe environment for all. The District also hosts a pair of Diversity Conferences each year for its high school and middle school students, where student representatives from each campus meet and engage to discuss how to impact and improve their campus culture for all students.
Parents can also help in identifying how children feel and express themselves that may indicate a pattern of bullying. We’ve spoken to several District administrators to get their advice on what to look for and how to help your child.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Child
One of the most important things parents can do is to be observant and aware of their child’s habits and moods. Steven Shiels, the Director of Counseling and Postsecondary Readiness, mentions there are behavioral signs that parents can look for in children who may be victimized, but also who may be the aggressor. Children who are victims of bullying or cyberbullying may exhibit some of the following signs:
A change in attitude, mood and behavior
A drop in grades
Isolated and withdrawn from their normal routine
He says that, especially with girls, make note if your child is no longer talking about a set of friends or is talking about an entirely new set of friends. This is because bullying for girls is subtler and harder to recognize, and often comes as a result of a friendship that has been damaged. In comparison, bullying for boys is typically more overt and threatening and may involve students who have no previous friendship.
If a child is a victim of bullying, parents are cautioned to not become their child’s advocate, and instead, to encourage and support their child as he or she makes the decision to report the bullying to administrators. Shiels mentions that many children are hesitant to report being bullied because they believe they will be further victimized.
“There are students that are in a lot of pain, that are depressed, and it is one of the largest causes of suicides among teens,” says Shiels. “In some situations, it is a life or death situation.”
Fort Bend ISD has reported no suicides in recent years but students are evaluated near daily for thoughts of self-harm, and Shiels believes that in addition to family conflict, bullying and negative relationships with peers directly influence that.
Children who may be bullying other students also display behavior that parents can recognize. Shiels says that an important sign of bullying is if these students mistreat younger children, including siblings, family members and neighbors, and animals. Oftentimes the way a child behaves at home is the way they behave at school.
“All students should have a safe environment. That’s a priority of the District and Dr. Dupre – that students have a safe learning environment and it is critical to everything that we want to do,” says Shiels. “Parents can help contribute to that through teaching a sense of empathy with their kids, that they are a part of the solution.”
During this month, each campus will increase awareness of how to stop bullying through programs, presentations and more. The District has provided teachers and school administrators with a large toolkit, aimed at giving students age-appropriate information on how to stop bullying before it begins.