AHS takes serious look at bullying

Published 8:01 am Friday, February 4, 2011

Bullying is nothing new, but schools across the country are taking new measures to combat the changing issue.

It’s an issue highlighted by the national media in recent months and now it’s an issue Austin Public School officials are renewing their focus on.

Over the next two months, Austin High School and Ellis Middle School will welcome speakers on physical bullying and cyber bullying.

“Bullying and harassment are issues in most American high school settings,” said Kirsten Lindbloom, the Chemical Health Action Initiative coordinator at AHS.

That’s why CHAI, Austin’s Human Rights Commission and AHS’s Diversity Club organized an upcoming bullying assembly by bringing in anti-bullying advocate Jamie Nabozny to speak to the community and AHS students next week.

Nabozny made history when he sued his former high school in Ashland, Wis. Nabozny was tormented by bullies for being gay, and school administrators had done practically nothing to help him, as they didn’t punish his tormentors and instead told him to expect being bullied since he was gay.

After initially losing his case in U.S. District Court, the decision was overturned on appeal, and Nabozny eventually settled with Ashland Public School District officials after a jury found the school’s administrators were at fault. Nabozny’s lawsuit was the first time a court found schools have a responsibility to protect students from anti-gay slurs and abuse.

Nabozny was the subject of a recent documentary, called “Bullied,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7 at AHS’s Knowlton Auditorium. After the 40-minute film, Nabozny will lead a discussion about his experiences. He’ll also give a lecture to AHS students during a school assembly on Feb. 8.

“Jamie’s message is very clear,” Lindbloom said. “Gay, straight, too short, too tall, too smart, not smart enough, kids are bullied for all kinds of reasons. The reasons are endless.”

District officials plan to follow Nabozny’s assembly with another assembly in March about cyber bullying. In part due to the attention bullying issues are getting recently and in part due to the perception that cyber bullying incidents are increasing in district schools, cyber bullying speakers will host assemblies at AHS and Ellis at the beginning of the month.

“Back in the old days, a note was written, or something was written on the bathroom walls,” said AHS Principal Brad Bergstrom. “It’s that same concept, but it’s something that’s done electronically.”

According to Bergstrom, there have been several incidents this year which didn’t start at school, but rather happened because of a social media post on web sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“Bullying is something we take very, very seriously here at the high school,” Bergstrom said. “We’re not going to bury our head in the sand and say, ‘it doesn’t happen at Austin High School,’ because it does happen here. We’re going to be on the proactive side to help kids understand (the effects of bullying).”

By having these assemblies, district officials hope to show kids why posting hurtful things online or making mean-spirited comments, or worse, to someone else is destructive.

“The message is that we all have a right to safety within the walls of our school,” Lindbloom said.