Disagreement over bullying erupts at Waterloo school board meeting

The Waterloo school district is doing all it can to address the issue of bullying of students.

Or it isn’t doing nearly enough.

Both viewpoints were aired at Monday’s school board meeting.

After several parents and students expressed concerns at recent board meetings about the extent of bullying and a perceived lack of effectively dealing with it, Middle School Principal Vincent Vitale spoke to a crowd of about 100 people Monday.

He said that, in addition to the Pledge of Allegiance, students also do a daily “Purple Hands Pledge” that says students will not use their hands to hurt themselves or others.

“Most kids follow it. Not all,” Vitale said. He said for those who violate the pledge, and school rules, bullying is defined as an “imbalance of power due to size, a group versus one, intent to do harm and that behavior is repeated, including verbal, physical and social bullying.”

“But we can confuse bullying with conflict, which is between two students. It’s different than bullying,” he said. He disagreed with those who claim the school does little or nothing in response to bullying reports. “I assure you that is not true. We have a dedicated staff who work hard to keep their students safe and on the right path.”

He listed some of the steps used by school officials to deal with bullying. They are progressive discipline, warnings, parent involvement, increased supervision, counseling support, teachable moments and mediation. “We stress prevention. We believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Vitale said.

School Superintendent Terri Bavis praised Vitale as a strong student advocate. She went on to list several steps that have been implemented to deal with bullying and related issues, including revival of the character education program, increasing advisement time from 10 minutes to up to 25 minutes “and giving kids a voice at the secondary level, making them part of the decision-making at school.”

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