Officials at two Lake County elementary school districts say they are taking steps to better police the bullying issue and make it easier to report.
Oak Grove District 68 in Green Oaks and neighboring Libertyville District 70 independently this week said they are pursuing new avenues to make schools safer.
School officials say a bullying policy with periodic review has been a state requirement the past few years. While both districts introduced improvements that feature a website form allowing bullying to be reported anonymously, Oak Grove is going full-bore on other aspects of the policy and making sure everyone is aware.
The renewed attention at Oak Grove, a single-school district with about 870 students, comes nearly immediately after one family's decision to transfer their son to a private school because of bullying.
"Like all schools in the country, it's an issue and we just want to do better with it," Superintendent Janice Matthews said.
At a special school board meeting on Wednesday, Matthews outlined several steps in progress or planned to better address the issue. The first was the introduction that day of a new "bullying resources" feature on the website, www.ogschool.org/.
"If people want to report information anonymously, they can do that now through this online forum," Matthews said. "Maybe a child wants to tell us something but they don't want to be identified. What happened is the most important thing to us."
Administrators also discussed a schoolwide plan intended to improve behavior. Aspects include a discipline reporting system and methods to track data and possibly adding lunch supervisors or other steps, such as having volunteers ride on buses.
"We're basically increasing monitoring of bullying at the board level," said board President Jennifer Manski. "We have bullying here and it's going to be awhile before it goes away."
District 70's bullying report form for Highland Middle School went live on Nov. 28. Already the 10 online reports exceeded the number of paper reports filed since the start of the year, school officials said. Students had filed reports at the school office, went to a teacher or social worker or even sent emails to administrators.
District 70 administrators said the new bullying report is not the result of an increase in incidents but part of a strategic plan to foster 'safe and caring environments'.
"We wanted to be proactive about preventing the effects, both tragic and minor, of bullying, and bring out the unheard voices of the witnesses," said Lorenzo Cervantes, Highland's dean of students.
He added that nationally, in 2007, nearly 30 percent of all sixth through 12th graders reported being involved in bullying, and that the school needs to help struggling students. Cervantes spoke with all three grades of students last month and will inform parents in the school newsletter.
At Oak Grove, principals are scheduled to meet with teachers Monday. Bullying awareness and prevention will include meetings with students to define bullying and outline in clear terms the potential consequences.
Bullying can include harassment, threats, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, sexual harassment or violence, theft, public humiliation, teasing, social exclusion or destruction of property, according to District 68 policy.
"There needs to be a sense of urgency," board member Paula Sterner said of pending adjustments.
Several parents who addressed the board noted the playground, lunchroom and buses need to be monitored and asked how pressure would be applied to parents of bullies. Others were critical of the board and administration.