Two years ago, the umbrella organization for Indian Prairie District 204’s parent groups conducted a survey that showed parents overwhelmingly wanted more information about bullying in schools and how the district administration handles it.
The result, said Sandy Kapsis, a vice president of the Indian Prairie Parents’ Council, was a bullying prevention seminar designed by Indian Prairie staff and a consultant to help parents identify bullying behaviors and talk to their children.
About 50 parents and administrators attended the first two-hour seminar held Wednesday at Crone Middle School in Naperville.
“We have a lot of families that struggle with establishing good morals and values,” said David Koopmann, a school psychologist at Waubonsie Valley High who helped develop the seminar. “Those behaviors that are learned at home, sometimes they spill over into school.”
Koopmann said parents should be able to distinguish between bullying and teasing or conflicts among students. Bullying is marked by an imbalance of power, an intent to harm and a threat of further aggression, he said.
Bullying can take several forms, including direct, which manifests in physical or verbal abuse, and indirect, which is usually relational or reputational. Physical bullying accounts for only one-third of all bullying, Koopmann said.
“The reason bullying often goes unrecognized is it’s easy to get away with,” he said.
Bullying behavior also varies by grade level. In elementary school, bullying might be calling a student a name or refusing to share, work or play with a student. In middle and high school it might be threatening not to be someone’s friend or saying things to harm someone’s reputation.
Cyberbullying, Koopmann said, is one of the most difficult problems facing the district because it’s often anonymous and can happen quickly. An estimated one in five teens are cyberbullied, Koopmann said.
“That’s where we’re seeing, as a district, that things are just burgeoning out of control,” he said. “Social media does have its benefits, but from where we stand in the schools it’s horrible.”
Victims of bullying, especially if the bully was a sibling, often don’t recognize they were bullied until later, Koopmann said.
Mike Treptow, a school social worker at Still Middle School who also helped develop the seminar, said the district’s best defense is if parents or students report bullying early on, before it escalates.
“A lot of times when bullying gets out of control it’s been going on a long time and we have no information,” Treptow said. “The sooner we can be involved, the sooner we can deal with the situation.”
Teaching children how to react as witnesses of bullying is key to preventing bullying, Koopmann said. Bystanders are present at an estimated 85 percent of bullying activities, he said.
The presenters encouraged parents to report instances of bullying anonymously to the district’s tip line by visiting www.ipsd.org/tips. Schools are required to investigate tips and staff are trained to deal with bullying investigations.
Tips remain confidential and school staff take steps to prevent the bullying from getting worse due to an investigation.
When counselors speak with the child exhibiting bullying behaviors, they might say the tip came from a teacher who saw the bullying or from a surveillance video to protect the identity of the person who reported the incident.
“We try not to be deceptive, but sometimes that’s a protection,” Treptow said.
In the past, some students have set up a separate email address to contact the tip line and sent screenshots of cyberbullying messages, one administrator said.
Court orders can be issued to gain access to cyberbullying texts and emails and to track the computer used to send bullying messages. The district can work with law enforcement to track cell phone numbers, as well.
Children need to believe that by telling an adult the bullying won’t get worse and the adult will take action, Treptow said.
“We need to help them understand there are supports in the [school] building and at home,” he said.