“He got hold of my daughter and pulled her hair out. … She was bleeding. The next day he gave her an arm burn,” Antoinette Humes said, describing the experiences of her 9-year-old daughter being abused by a school bully.
Incidents such as this one compelled parents and community groups to present a new proposal to counteract bullying to the city’s Board of Education last month. The resolution, requested by the State Department of Education, would redefine the term “bullying” and instate more elaborate follow-up procedures once an incident had been reported.
The original definition of bullying read: “Overt acts by one or more students intended to ridicule, humiliate or intimate, that are committed against the same student during the school year,” BOE spokeswoman Michelle Wade said. She said the new definition shifts the focus to each individual bully and imposes penalties after the first offense.
“Under the previous definition, a bully could harass different kids and get away with it as long as he was not bullying the same student, but that won’t be allowed under the new definition,” she said.
Humes’ said her daughter, a second grader at Beecher School on Jewell Street, was bullied by a classmate on her school bus on two occasions, stressing that her daughter’s story was not an isolated incident — it happens all the time, she said.
Humes said her daughter was also being touched by fellow students and was pressured to stay mum about the incident. She said her daughter once received an anonymous note from a classmate that said, “Can you suck my you know what?”
“My daughter is a peanut, one of the smallest kids in her class of 700 and so an easy prey for the bullies,” Humes said Wednesday. “My daughter is scared of going to school now.”
Tasha Smith, president of Teach Our Children, a parent-led organization meant to improve New Haven public schools, emphasized the consequences of bullying, saying that it reduces students’ self confidence and their desire to go to school. She said her organization was on the same page with the state in fighting for a change in school policy.
“There needs to be a process to follow up when bullying occurs,” she said. “Right now, it is all up to a person to make a complaint in order to take action and bullying is getting out of control.”
Smith said prevention must be addressed first. She said students need to be educated about these issues and teachers need to be trained on how to deal with inappropriate behavior.
“We are going to continue to work for our cause, to actually improve the situation and not just put a Band-Aid on all the problems,” she said.
The new definition has not yet been enacted and is in the process of being reviewed by the Board of Education.