Officials seek anti-bullying plan for every Hawaii school

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU—Hawaii law prohibits harassment by any student in the public school system during school hours, on school premises, or during department-supervised activities on or off school property. Yet despite the penalties and individual efforts by Hawaii schools, it will take active participation by all students and members of the community to change the culture of bullying.

Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Surveys documented a significant degree of violence and sense of vulnerability among Hawaii’s middle and high school students in 2005. The study found that 58 percent of middle school students and nearly 44 percent of high school students said that someone tried to hurt them verbally while on school property during the past 12 months. Nearly 15 percent of middle school students and 12 percent of high school students said that during the past 12 months they were harassed one or more times because someone thought they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

As part of the latest efforts to fight bullying, a series of student-produced public service announcements promoting safe schools will be hitting the airwaves.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, BOE Chairman Don Horner, BOE member Keith Amemiya, and Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi joined star UH athletes and students from Waianae High School’s award-winning Searider Productions Tuesday, October 4 in announcing the six video PSAs at the Stan Sheriff Center.

“We will make our schools safe for our children so they can concentrate on learning,” Abercrombie said. “We are addressing bullying in all forms and are committed to working together so that every school has an antibullying plan.”

The segments feature BOE member Amemiya, Superintendent Matayoshi, and UH’s Kanani Danielson (Wahine Volleyball), Richard Torres (Football), Jessica Iwata (Wahine Softball), and Miah Ostrowski (Football and Men’s Basketball) explaining the dangers of bullying and encouraging students and communities to help promote campus safety.

Depression and suicidality were predictors of both bullying and victimization.

“Our students and educators deserve a safe and peaceful academic/school environment where they can maximize learning,” Matayoshi said in a statement. “We are moving forward on a comprehensive systemic approach to address bullying through improved data gathering and analysis, professional development and training, and the proactive involvement of community and students. As citizens of Hawaii, we must all do our part to prevent and eliminate bullying. Improving the schools and communities in which we live is a shared responsibility.”

The White House Conference on Bullying Prevention held in March pointed to research confirming a few obvious assumptions about life on the school yard. For one, students who are in the ethnic minority in a school are more likely to be bullied than students who are in the ethnic majority.

The National Association of School Psychologists in Georgia also found that bully-victims, victims, and bullies all experience depressive disorders. A recent study found that depression and suicidality were predictors of both bullying and victimization.

Research conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) with 7,261 students (ages 13 to 21) in 2009 found that 84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed, and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

Hawaii’s PSAs on bullying come as its DOE and BOE are working on a comprehensive “peaceful schools” program that will employ best practices to combat bullying. Annual training will be provided to faculty, staff and students, families, and the community. Student behavior data will be routinely monitored, a confidential reporting system will be developed, and schools will adopt a program to prevent and respond to bullying promptly.

“Although the schools are fully committed to curbing bullying, they can’t do it alone,” Amemiya said. “Bullying isn’t just a school problem. Everyone, from family members to friends and the entire community at large needs to work together to curb bullying.”

To view the PSAs, click here

The BOE and DOE discussed the implementation of the “peaceful schools” program today during the Board’s General Business Meeting at the Queen Liliuokalani Building.