For many parents, making sure their child is safe while in school is a top priority.
Similar to most school districts, Columbus isn’t completely immune to the effects of bullying and harassment, but administrators are working to lower the number of reported incidents.
Lisa Blochwitz, Columbus’ student services director, presented the 2018-19 monitoring report detailing the number of bullying and harassment incidents last year and how staff dealt with them at the Aug. 12 school board meeting at City Hall. Blochwitz would like to see staff become more consistent in its incident reporting. She also talked about what the district defines as bullying and harassment as opposed to teasing.
Blochwitz said the district has a baseline and assesses students’ behavior on five “cares” areas. According to her data, at the elementary school, 75 percent of students averaged a 2.5 grade or better in the five areas. At the middle school, students scored well in the safe and responsible categories but Blochwitz would like to see the score higher.
“I would love to say that 99 percent of our middle schoolers are safe, but that is not accurate data,” Blochwitz said. “I worry about coming back to (the board) next year and having that number lower because I don’t think the reporting has been done intentionally and consistently or has followed some type of process where teachers are looking critically at each student in these areas and accurately assessing.”
Blochwitz said a better rubric should be developed for staff to more consistently document incidents, which will require additional training. She said numbers could dip next year, but it will likely be a reflection of more accurate reporting. Columbus uses the software Infinite Campus to chart safety incidents.
At the high school, according to Blochwitz, 42 disruptive behavior incidents occurred last school year.
“I am hopeful that number will go down now that we’ve defined what disruptive behavior means,” Blochwitz said. “When you see the words ‘disruptive behavior’ we probably all have a different definition of it so my hope is that by enforcing those definitions and immediate corrections we’ve identified we will be coding them more accurately.”
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Blochwitz said the district charts bullying incidents through Infinite Campus and a youth risk assessment survey. Through the student survey, about 31 percent of students reported being bullied.
“There are a lot of times we find that students and parents call it bullying what is really teasing or being picked on, and there are different definitions of that,” Blochwitz said. “The definition of bullying is an exertion of power repeated over a course of time. Just because there is one incident when ‘Sam’ is being mean to ‘Johnny,’ that doesn’t mean it’s bullying.”
Blochwitz said students and parents also need more education and information on what defines bullying so incidents are accurately documented. She said the district will work on improving safety education for teachers, students and parents in the upcoming school year.
Blochwitz also discussed the 2018-19 district seclusion and restraint report. She reported seven incidents, involving three students, of seclusion and restraint. She said all incidents took place at the elementary school.
“It is a small number and we’re doing a better job as a district of trying some other tools, supports and strategies for students before we move to seclusion and restraint, which is really our last resort,” Blochwitz said. “We’re also finding the amount of time a child needs to be secluded or restrained is also decreasing, which we like to see.”
According to Blochwitz, seclusion refers to the “confinement of a student,” preventing them from leaving a room. She said it can only be used when there is a clear and imminent risk of the child’s welfare and safety, along with their classmates.’ Restraint refers to immobilizing a student in a non-violent manner, such as using a physical hold to restrict their movement.
Blochwitz said most of the school’s staff receive non-violent crisis training on a yearly basis. District staff members Cori Denk and John Crombie serve as certified trainers. Teachers are also practicing de-escalation techniques to improve the way they handle student behavior outbursts.