JONESBORO — Clayton County Public Schools are failing when it comes to addressing the issue of bullying, according to a Christian counselor who has dealt with students for 10 years.
“I have gotten a lot of young people who have been bullied who have come through my office and told me the school has done nothing to help them,” said Willie Simpson, founder and CEO of Crossroads Youth Development Center, a nonprofit in Jonesboro. “We have a long way to go. Bottom line when a child is being bullied in school it’s the schools responsibility to do something.”
However, Tamera Foley, executive director of teaching and learning for Clayton County Public Schools, does not agree with Simpson’s assessment. “All of our counselors and psychologists are trained to handle these situations,” said Foley. “Bullying is something we take very seriously. We don’t want any child to be a victim of being bullied.”
Simpson said a 16-year-old, whose name could not be identified, dropped out of Clayton County school system because of the excessive teasing from other students. She said the teenager came to her office in tears and was feeling defeated. Simpson said the teenager revealed to her during a counseling session that the school counselor told her she just needed to learn to deal with the bullying. As a result the 16-year-old missed several days of school and ultimately dropped out.
“After some time counseling with [the teenager] and getting her in enrolled in our Success For Life GED program, we got her on the right track,” said Simpson. She added after a year the 16-year-old received her GED and is enrolled in nursing school.
Foley said counselors are supposed to take the proper protocol and investigate all situations when a student is making claims they are being bullied. “There are very specific procedures that have to take place to consider the appropriate disciplinary actions,” she said.
Clayton County Public School’s bully policy reads: “Any student who engages in bullying activity (including any form of electronic bullying, or “cyberbullying”, using school equipment, school networks, e-mail systems or committed at school) shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion. Disciplinary action for incidents of bullying may include, to the following: Loss of a privilege, reassignment of seats in the classroom, cafeteria or school bus, reassignment of classes, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, detention, expulsion (through appropriate due process hearing), assignment to an alternative school (through appropriate due process hearing).”
Simpson said scores of youth have graced her door steps, students who are dealing with an identity crisis or are on a road to juvenile delinquency. “Most of the youth that I counsel with are angry,” said Simpson. “A lot of it has to do with their home conditions.”
Simpson added in her experience it’s anger, that can lead a student to bully other students or to become victims themselves. “If you don’t get to the root of that anger it will destroy you,” she said. “That’s why I work to try to get to the bottom of that.”
One national civil rights movement, Advancement Project Alliance for Educational Justice is speaking out about the harsh punishments against students who are bullying. Recently the group rallied in Washington and asked for education policy makers to reconsider the harsh disciplinary actions to bullying. Their argument is the zero tolerance policy is not the solution for bullying, which many schools across the nation have adopted, including Clayton County. According to the organization this policy relies on suspension, expulsion and often leads to a student into the criminal system.
Simpson agreed. “If there were more counseling available to students there would not be as many problems with bullying in the schools.” She added counseling should be available to students who are responsible for the bullying and victims as well. If that were the case, she said, there would be a decrease in students dropping out of school and engaging in criminal activity.
Foley agreed, adding that according to the district’s policy on bullying if necessary, counseling and other interventions should be provided to address the social-emotional, behavioral and academic needs of students who are victims of bullying and students who commit an offense of bullying. “I believe counseling serves as an intervention,” said Foley. “Students do not just wake up one morning and decide that I’m going to be a bully. There’s a reason why. It’s our job to get to the root of the problem.”
When it comes to understanding a student who likes to bully others, Simpson seems to be an expert. “You know hurt people like to hurt people,” said Simpson. “We need to get students to place where they are confident in themselves who they are destined to be. This will stop a lot of the bullying in schools.”