Parents take aim at bullies

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Danielle Borgerson-Nesvold’s son told her about his bully, she grew concerned. When he mentioned it again, she grew worried. When she found out from other parents that her son, a fifth-grader who attended Southgate Elementary School was bullied every day he stepped onto the playground, she got upset.

That’s why Borgerson-Nesvold, along with concerned parents across Austin Public Schools, are forming a community group to address bullying.

“It’s not a school district deal,” she said before presenting at the school board’s monthly special session.

Over the past year, local and national media have renewed focus on the issue, and officials at Austin Public Schools have renewed their focus too. In February, anti-gay bullying advocate Jamie Nabozny gave a lecture and a free viewing of “Bullied,” the documentary about Nabozny’s struggle at Ashland High School in Ashland, Wis., and his lawsuit against Ashland Public School administrators. AHS and Ellis held cyber bullying assemblies in March as well. There will be a continued push to combat bullying through the spring and next school year, according to CHAI Coordinator Kirsten Lindbloom.

In addition, school officials have kept current classroom education programs going, along with prevention methods like having a liasion officer give presentations at elementary schools and get to know students.

“We’re not here just to enforce the law,” said Mark Walski, Austin High School’s liasion officer. “We’re here to help kids.”

While community organizers acknowledge Austin’s efforts to combat bullying, parents are saying it isn’t enough. One of the measures the community group wants is more volunteers working as playground supervisors, from about two helpers to 10 per recess. They also want stricter punishments for younger bullies and monthly bullying lessons taught in the classroom.

“I don’t want Austin to have a child hurt themselves or commit suicide because of bullying,” Borgerson-Nesvold said.

Board members agree the issue is serious, but some of them wondered how effective teachers could be in stopping bullying for fear of reproachment or lawsuit.

The community group will start a community-wide campaign within the next month or so, hoping to spread the word across town to stamp out bullying. About 15 members regularly attend, but there are more than 50 parents paying attention to the meetings and even more willing to help according to Neveln Elementary School Principal Dewey Schara.

“We are talking a lot more at all of the buildings about bullying,” Schara said.

It’s going to take a while for the culture to change, and it will have to come with a lot of parent and community support, school officials say. For Borgerson-Nesvold, it can’t come soon enough. Her son transferred schools because of his bully, who she found out had caused several students to transfer schools because of his behavior. Yet she hopes the community group’s actions.

“If we change the climate of our schools … it will happen quickly,” she said.