Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

September 27, 2013

Bullying, counseling eyed by BCSC trustees

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Indiana’s revised bullying legislation, enacted July 1, and the lack of counselors at two of four Batesville Community School Corp. buildings were the top issues at the Sept. 16 meeting.

Trustees considered the first reading of a BCSC bullying policy that was formulated by director of student learning Melissa Burton, principals and assistant principals. It must be in place by Oct. 15, according to state law.

Burton explained, “We tried to make a policy that aligned with all the law changes,” including reporting procedures, investigation timetables, definitions, a bullying curriculum and training for staff and volunteers.

Indiana Code 20-33-8-0.2 defines bullying as “overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including (1) verbal or written communications or images transmitted in any manner (including digitally or electronically); (2) physical acts committed, aggression; or (3) any other behaviors that are committed by a student or group of students against another student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate or harm the other targeted student and create for the targeted student an objectively hostile school environment ...”

The old law stated discipline rules were needed for bullying taking place on school grounds before, during or after school; during a later school event; or traveling to or from school. This year IC 20-33-8-13.5 was broadened to state BCSC’s rules “may be applied regardless of the physical location in which the bullying behavior occurred, whenever: (1) the individual committing the bullying behavior and any of the intended targets of the bullying behavior are students attending a school within a school corporation; and (2) disciplinary action is reasonably necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or prevent an unreasonable threat to the rights of others to a safe and peaceful learning environment.”

That Indiana Code section also calls for “a detailed procedure for the expedited investigation of incidents ...” There must be “discipline provisions for teachers, school staff or school administrators who fail to initiate or conduct an investigation of a bullying incident.” The section adds BCSC must provide “support services for the victim and bullying education for the bully.”

Superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts said, “This particular policy does give us pause” because “if you have two students at your school” who have an incident anywhere 24/7, the school must investigate. He observed, “A lot of research has been happening” to find the best curriculum.

BCSC President Chris Lowery was irked that the state places the burden to lessen bullying solely on school districts. He asked, “Was there additional state funding” to fulfill the legislation’s requirements? Burton responded, “There was not.” He also wondered if parents were mentioned in the new law. The answer was another no. Trustee Ray Call said, “They want the school to be the uber (super) police department for all the kids in town.”

Roberts pointed out, “We are fortunate to have a school resource officer (Batesville Police Department Patrolman Jamie Straber) … to help” address bullying problems.

Administrators are looking for grants to pay for the program.

Dala Vonderheide, Batesville Intermediate School emotional disabilities teacher, noted, “As we start looking at the bullying policy … and we start talking about the curriculum, I would just like to remind you we have two schools in this corporation that are currently without counselors.”

Trustee Wanita Linkel asked, “Why have we not hired counselors?” Roberts noted when Thomas Barnett, the counselor at Batesville Primary School and BIS, resigned in January, he was not replaced. “As we made a variety of (personnel) changes, we believed the four administrators (two principals and two associate principals at those schools) could meet those needs.”

Linkel questioned if those educators have counseling training. Roberts said BIS associate principal Patricia Johnson, the former BIS counselor, “definitely does.” BPS associate principal Suzanne Kunkel has 21 years of experience in her current role, according to him.

“I’m sure there are issues (students face) ... across the corporation. I have not been notified of us failing” to meet counseling needs. He said problems have not been brought to his attention.

Linkel emphasized, “I honestly think we should at least have one person going between the (two) buildings … who has come out of college with the training.”

The director of student learning said a teacher had shared concerns with her about the lack of counselors. She explained the teacher “was unaware of resources we already have in place,” such as school-based psychological services. “There are lots of resources we are not using. At BPS, for example,” emotional disabilities teacher Kayla Bradley is scheduled to spend half of her time working with kids who need extra support in general classrooms. Burton vowed that if educators are not meeting students’ needs, the decision will be re-evaluated. “We have to see if we’re utilizing the people we currently have in place.”

A few minutes later, while trustees and administrators discussed the meeting’s positives and negatives, the superintendent said, “Dollars are always a concern as we look at next year’s budget. A counselor does cost a whole salary.” Because the person most likely would have a master’s degree, that annual pay could be in the $50,000-$55,000 range, he reported. “We’re open to looking at that.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.