Friday, December 23, 2005

UPDATE: MGRHS social worker concerned about "bullying" news conference

The school-adjustment councilor at Mount Greylock Regional High School, Debora Cole-Duffy, has sent a letter to The Berkshire Eagle expressing concern about the effect the paper's coverage of "bullying" incidents may be having on the school.

The text, supplied by Ms. Cole-Duffy to, appears below.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Cole-Duffy, Debora
Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2005 3:12 PM
To: Admin Team; all
Subject: FW: Re: Letter to the editor

Dear Colleagues,

Below is a letter that I wrote to the Editor of the Eagle as I could no longer bear to read about us in the Eagle without offering a response to the bullying behavior, and how I believe that 'we' have been affected by the press coverage.

Please do take care,


From: Cole-Duffy, Debora
Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2005 2:10 PM
To: ''
Subject: Re: Letter to the editor

To: Bill Everhart

From: Deb Cole-Duffy, School Adjustment Counselor

To The Editor of the Berkshire Eagle:

As the School Adjustment Counselor of the Mt. Greylock Regional School District, I believe it is due time to offer a voice of concern about the unfortunate occurrences of bullying and harassment that have affected some of our middle-school students. Since the beginning of the school year, many middle-school students have been experiencing the ill effects of interpersonal conflict and bullying. Students who bully others and students on the receiving end of the bullying behavior are in many cases observed in both roles.

Bullying and harassing behavior can traumatize a child and his/her family and peers, and certainly this behavior affects the community-at-large. Bullying and harassment behaviors are unfortunately more pervasive in latency-age, pre-pubescent and early adolescent children and children are more likely to offend when they struggle with personal and social issues. As many people are aware, bullying is a chronic problem, not an isolated incident. The child that bullies wants to control another child through violent or verbal acts or through threatening behavior.

The victim fears regular contact with the bully, and at times will withdraw socially from the group that associates with the bully. The bullied student may struggle to concentrate at school, may not want to attend school, may begin to develop physical symptoms, i.e., headaches, and stomach problems, and may begin to develop emotional difficulties; for example, depression and/or anxiety. The child who bullies and the child that is victimized may exhibit an increase in behavior problems in school and/or at home.

With regard to the incidents that have achieved such notoriety, I am sure that people are well aware that the triggers of this behavior did not simply manifest themselves once these students reached the doors of our school. Obviously, such behaviors resulted from the personal and social difficulties that the children have likely experienced for a number of years.

However, it is important to note that my colleagues and I have observed that a number of students did arrive at Mt. Greylock this year with unresolved histories of interpersonal conflict. And, once the criticality of the situation was assessed, immediate steps were taken to develop greater prevention and intervention efforts. Mt. Greylock has taken steps to prevent bullying behavior and has immediately intervened when it occurs.

Students must feel safe to attend school - to learn, have fun, and discover their true selves. Middle School Principal Ellen Kaiser has met several times with students and with parents to speak of the school's progressive discipline policy.

Bullying behavior is not being tolerated at Mt. Greylock and appropriate school consequences are issued. Law enforcement is accessed if the bullying behavior does not cease. Teachers have taken an active role to observe students in and out of the classroom and to limit inappropriate behavior.

They are more vigilant when observing student interactions: for example; some students may walk arm in arm as a way of showing their friendship. However, it is for this very reason that some bullies choose this tactic to control the victim, so the behavior seemingly appears innocent.

With this in mind, Mrs. Kaiser has set a clear limit on physical contact between students. The counselors and outreach worker meet with students affected by bullying and work closely to help administrators and teachers understand the effects of the behavior.

I have been employing a bullying prevention program in the middle school advisory classes, called 'Second Step,' which is a research-based violence prevention program developed by the Committee for Children.

The program focuses on understanding the problem; stopping and preventing the bullying behavior and interpersonal conflict; training for empathy, impulse control and anger management; and applying the skills via role play and class discussion. Many students who are respectful of others are being rewarded each week at morning meeting for 'getting caught doing the right thing' through the Penna's Pride program; and the middle school is developing a plan to institute a school-community initiative to help students become responsible citizens.

As a clinical social worker, I am also extremely concerned about the trauma that our school is experiencing regarding the deleterious effects of the press coverage. Ironically, such effects are actually paralleling the effects of harassing behavior.Now, in addition to the weighty task of expanding our services to students, our school is now being charged to manage the understandable reactions to the press. Our students, staff, and members of our school community are now reeling from the opinions noted in the press, which characterize Mt. Greylock to be a school that bullies, and one that is tainted as racist, anti-Semitic, and discriminating.

The Eagle has synthesized ill-willed opinions with a harassment report creating for critical reactions from students, staff, and members of our community. The majority of students in the middle and high school as well as parents and community members are outraged that their school is being depicted not only as being tolerant of harassing behavior, but also at some level as actually perpetuating the harassment. The irony is that now we must handle the rippling effects of the secondary traumatization to our school community, which is indeed getting in the way of our primary efforts.

With regard to the opinion that the 38 students withdrew from Mt. Greylock last year did so as a likely result from the effects of harassment is simply untrue. The Director of Student Services reported that the majority of students sought a vocational placement. Others were unable to handle the structure and expectations of a public-school program. I am not saying that we had no students withdraw as a result of being harassed; however, the vast majority had other academic/vocational plans.

Sadly, it is my belief that there has been a rather neglectful posture taken against our school. There appears the need to make a public example of Mt. Greylock as being a 'bad place,' for the serious conduct of some students. As a result, the Eagle must have felt that it was best to contact other highly regarded professionals in the community to speak about the judicial, mental health and school adjustment consequences of bullying behavior. I was simply shocked that none of our teachers or counselors was asked for their views about the problem, and more importantly to learn how our school has addressed the critical incidents.

Our school is one part of the community-at-large, which must work hand in hand with student leaders, parents, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and interested community members to help our children make positive relational choices. They must learn from us all to tolerate and respect others. Respectful and empathic behavior must be modeled in our homes, community, and nation.

The school is an optimum place to take charge of developing and enhancing an inter-disciplinary social-emotional program to educate and inform students, but it cannot act alone, and the institution itself will not benefit from suffering the consequences of innuendo and opinion. Students must be empowered to stay safe: If possible, he/she should tell the child that bullies to stop the behavior. If the child cannot communicate with the offender, he/she must be urged to report the incident to an administrator, teacher or counselor, and trust that the reports will be acted upon swiftly, and trust that the school will sustain its prevention and intervention efforts.

Mt. Greylock deserves the opportunity to air its views about these efforts, and certainly to listen and learn from others about ways to enhance these efforts.

Debora S. Cole-Duffy
Dalton, Mass.


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