Bullying help line is working well


Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.

Alachua County middle school parents and students are calling the new "Bullying Help Line" more than their elementary and high school counterparts.

As of March 1, 17 of the 31 calls/emails to the anonymous help line have come from middle school parents and students, said Sharon Spreen, coordinator of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program with Alachua County Public Schools. She also said five and nine calls, respectively, were made at the high school and elementary school levels.

"I think that is normal, because middle school is a transition period for students," Spreen said. "The students go from being in class with one teacher, basically all day while in elementary school, to having to walk to different classes throughout the day, and that leads to interaction with more kids than they had in elementary school."

Spreen also said middle school campuses in Alachua County are much bigger than elementary school campuses in the county, which gives students more of a chance to have their misbehavior go unnoticed.

The help line at 352-955-7200 was instituted this school year by the School Board to give parents and students another avenue to help solve problems with bullying. Bullying can also be reported via email, by filling out a mail-in form and online.

Spreen said as of March 1, there have been 31, 29 and seven direct reports of bullying made to elementary, middle and high schools, respectively. Spreen said schools in the district wrote 148 referrals for bullying during the 2011-2012 school year.

The district defines bullying as "unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance."

Mike Gamble, principal at Howard Bishop Middle School, said the help line is working fine.

"It's another tool in the box to use," said Gamble, as he manned the ticket table at Gainesville High School during basketball games between the boys and girls teams at Bishop and Lincoln Middle School.

"Anything that helps the kids out and gives them a way to report bullying is a good thing," he said, adding that the help line has not been abused with an abundance of false calls. "It is good to have something like the help line."

Spreen said she monitors the help line and responds to all calls. She said she gathers information and then gives it to the principal at the school involved in a complaint. She said the principals then conduct investigations before letting her know their findings.

"Schools are required to send me a Bullying Report Form and Checklist," said Spreen, adding that investigations conclude with "substantiated" or "unsubstantiated" rulings.

"Discipline has ranged from a warning and parent contact to out-of-school suspension," Spreen said. "Sometimes, we find that both students are bullying each other."

She said school officials will evaluate the help line at the end of the school year to see if any changes need to be made. She also said she thinks it is meeting the needs of parents and students.

"I try to call parents to see if they are pleased with the outcomes of their reports," Spreen said. "So far, the help line has worked very well."

Spreen said most bullying goes unreported if it is not witnessed by an adult.

"We encourage parents and students to report bullying to our help line or to school personnel, so we can address it and stop it," Spreen said.

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