As part of a statewide initiative against bullying in schools, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District hosted a forum to inform the community about the measures it has taken against bullying, as well as measures for preventing bullying in the future.
The forum, led by District Anti-Bullying Coordinator Cailin Taggart, covered steps the district has taken — including the addition of her position — that is meant to curb bullying and prevent incidences in the future, she said.
In the past year, the district has assigned anti-bullying supervisors in each school, developed recording keeping systems for bullying incidences, training for the entire staff and held parent and community education about the steps the district has taken.
Taggart said the district is currently in the process of developing school climate surveys so specialists can determine the bullying atmosphere in the schools to combat each scenario directly.
These resources are meant to stop bullying in schools by addressing and correcting issues, said Superintendent Margaret Hayes.
"We are very concerned and we are taking these responsibilities very seriously," she said. "Our goal is for bullying to simply not happen."
Hayes said the push toward anti-bullying stems for state legislature that isn't new, but was recently clarified to include cyberbullying; a serious issue for students. The new legislature also clarifies that bullying may be only one incident if it falls within other qualifications of bullying.
Taggart laid out plans for the upcoming school year, including training in the new law, stipulations for students, implementation of the surveys currently in development and participation in the Roots Program at Terrill Middle School.
The 20-person audience also listened to anti-bullying techniques from Cathy Cleary of the Union County Rape Crisis Center who explained Green Dot, a program meant to combat bullying at the student level by presenting students with resources on how to deal with confrontation on their own.
The initiative is meant to prevent bullying before it happens, she said. “No one invites me to the parties, so we want to give them the right resources to deal with social problems on their own.”
The pilot program started at SPFHS and has given the district an edge in anti-bullying programs in the state.
The forum also heard from Connie Palmer of Resolve, who said role-playing gives students confidence in bullying situations because they can practice how to handle the situations if they arise.
Palmer advocated for the Bullies to Buddies program, which gives students scripts on common bullying scenarios and helps them develop positive responses to negative behavior.
The program is immediately effective, Palmer said, because they are prepared and are no longer susceptible to bullying influence because they know how to combat it.
“They no longer feel like a victim,” she said. “This method doesn’t just change lives of individual students. It has the potential to change the entire culture of a school.”