Bullying, a powerful and often emotional subject in education today, was addressed at Tuesday evening’s first general membership meeting of the Manchester PTA for this school year.
Annette Simone, a special education instructor and volleyball coach at Manchester Township High School, set about putting the problem in a context aimed specifically to the parents in attendance at the meeting.
“Normal teasing is back-and-forth, where bullying is one-sided,” Simone said as she sought to differentiate bullying from good-natured teasing and conflict during her discussion at Manchester Township Elementary School.
Simone also spoke about how bullying affects students and the possible motivations for why bullies engage in such behavior.
The educator named various mediums through which bullying behavior is applied, such as verbal, written, physical, emotional, harassment, hazing and cyber-bullying, among others. An important segment of Simone’s talk was illustrating the “imbalance of power” between a bully and their victim, whether it be physical, psychological or social, and the unilateral nature of the behavior.
Under the New Jersey Title 18A definition of bullying, it encompasses “gestures, written, verbal, electronic or physical acts or communications”, which “cause physical and/or emotional harm or fear of harm to one or more targets or their property, insults or demeans any student or group of students, creates a hostile environments by interfering with any student(s) education or causing harm to a student, or infringes on the rights of any students.”
Simone clarified that bullying is repeated behavior towards a specific target or targets which is unprovoked and possesses intent to harm.
Quoting Paula C. Rodriguez Rust, Ph.D of the Union County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office, Simone explained that bullies may have “low tolerance for frustration, a lack of impulse control, a lack of empathy for others, a lack of respect for authority, a tendency towards aggression, a lack of ability to understand consequences, difficulty interpreting others’ social cues and emotions.”
MTHS Guidance Counselor Shannon Findlow said that a benefit of the anti-bullying legislation recently passed in New Jersey was the advocacy of “bringing about positive changes” in the school climate.
“It teaches respect for others, respect for yourself and respect for property,” said Findlow.
Both Findlow and other school administrators present told parents to inform them when they hear about bullying incidents that may occur involving their children.
Ridgeway Elementary School Principal Diane Pedroza added that the anti-bullying law includes a precept for follow-through actions by school administration when incidents are reported, and parents of all parties involved in the incident are notified.
Pedroza said that disciplinary actions faced by students in Manchester Schools who are responsible for bullying are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but they do include lunch detention and/or an apology, counseling, in-school or out-of-school suspensions, depending on the incident.
PTA President Cara McAllister thanked Simone for visiting the PTA with this discussion, and also encouraged parents of Manchester students to band together to help address the subject of bullying in schools.
“If it were my child (involved), I would want to know if something was going on,” she said.