The Shelbyville Central Schools board devoted nearly two hours Thursday discussing what parents believe are unchecked bullying issues within the school system.
School board president Curt Johnson directed a 45-minute work session at the administration building that included Superintendent Dr. Matt Vance and Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Miltz. Twelve individuals sat before the board and outlined specific issues about how bullying issues have been handled.
“We had a good turnout which shows the level of commitment,” said Johnson after the meeting. “It was very civil and rational even though it’s an emotionally-charged issue. There were a couple of people where you could really feel the emotion coming out of them, but I thought it was a good conversation.”
Following the work session, board members and the nearly 60 people in attendance spoke more informally for another 45 minutes about potential solutions to a nationwide problem within school systems.
The most common complaint brought up Thursday was a perceived lack of communication between the schools and family members of a student that has lodged a bullying complaint.
“I think in terms of having a successful education program, communication is huge no matter what we’re talking about. I think its one thing we can continue to work on to make better,” said Vance. “For us all to be successful, we need to communicate. We’ve heard some of those concerns now. We need to look at what we can do to make that better and we understand that.”
Parents and family members of SCS students at the elementary, middle school and high school levels detailed bullying situations that their children have endured. Several vented frustrations with not getting investigation results to know if the bullying situation was handled.
“No matter how you want to view it, communication is the root of so many problems, big and small,” said Johnson (photo, second from right). “That certainly is one of the big takeaways so far is we need to do a better job communicating what parents, what other stakeholders can do.”
SCS utilizes the Stop It app to allow students to anonymously report bullying. One parent suggested a training session on how the app works to make it a more viable option for reporting.
“I don’t think people are as aware of that (app),” said Johnson. “I think we need to do a better job of making them aware of how it works. It sounds like there may be some kinks in it. We heard some of that tonight.
“In my mind, you have to look at the information technology. What you don’t want to do is dump (more) on a teacher.”
An obvious solution is more adults in each building – whether it is more teachers, more counselors or social workers, or more resource officers.
“My goal is to continue to expand our SRO (School Resource Officer) program,” said Vance. “We have a great program in place. Again, what can we do better? How can we get more officers? You can never have too many SROs.
“We have a great relationship there. Now, what can we do to expand that?”
Adding more staff means expanding expenses. There are grant options that can be pursued, according to Vance, but there also is the need for qualified (police) officers willing to be part of the SRO program.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of having enough officers that want to do it and can do it and have the availability,” said Vance. “It’s more complex than just money. It’s just having the manpower in some cases. We have made some adjustments to our SRO schedule this year. We have expanded it some and my hope is we can continue to expand it more.”
Johnson admitted he is not a fan of bringing more firearms into schools via resource officers or armed security personnel. He is intrigued with the idea of parent volunteers assisting school staff on a daily basis.
“There was a woman here I know that has volunteered at Loper (Elementary) for seven years. She is retired. She likes being around kids,” said Johnson. “This helps get the parents involved in the schools. There is a lot of virtue in that. I think that is a potentially viable option but there are some legal aspects we would have to look at. I think this bears further scrutiny – the heightened use of volunteers.”
The school board and the superintendent plan to talk with teachers and administrators and follow up on Thursday’s discussion. There is not a second public meeting scheduled at this time.
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