Addressing bullying important

Members of the Penn Cambria School Board and the district’s administration were taken aback to some degree on Sept. 19 by a parent’s expressed viewpoints critical of the district’s anti-bullying policy.

Penn Cambria officials are on record as being proactive in trying to eradicate bullying in the district’s schools. Thus, it must have been difficult for those officials to listen to the parent’s unflattering interpretation of some purported aspects of the policy — particularly some of the thinking that might be guiding it.

Even if the parent’s viewpoints were based on some misconceptions, it’s possible that some other district parents might have the same concerns as that parent but up to now haven’t expressed them.

On the troubling topic of bullying, Penn Cambria and other districts must let it be known that they absolutely will not tolerate or ignore it, in any of its forms. And Penn Cambria and other districts must seal any cracks in their policies that might seem to provide leeway for bullies to continue any of their unacceptable conduct.

What should be of interest to people of Penn Cambria is that the Sept. 19 concerns were raised by a teacher, albeit not by one who teaches in the district.

Ronda Dodson, the teacher in question, lives in the Penn Cambria district, has a child enrolled in Penn Cambria but is employed by the Tyrone Area School District.

Dodson became concerned about the Penn Cambria policy as the result of a workshop held in early September for parents, at which bullying was a topic.

As an article in the Sept. 21 Mirror reported, Dodson’s board meeting comments were prompted by a reported suggestion from district leaders that children create a “tough outer shell” to help protect themselves from hurtful bullying.

Dodson said the outer-shell message made her feel as if the responsibility to curb hurtful behavior has been placed on bullied students.

“The bullying policy seems to be putting the blame on the victims and not addressing the bullies,” Dodson told the board.

She’s right that young people shouldn’t have to establish a bully-proof wall for their individual selves. Rather, anti-bullying polices should be rooted totally in the principle of zero tolerance.

Beyond that, it’s also important to note that bullying must never be excused as a part of growing up.

In the school environment, the basis for bullying is immaturity. However, excusing it in any way based on that reality is unacceptable.

The Penn Cambria anti-bullying policy is clear in that it “prohibits bullying by district students.”

The policy states that the school board is committed to providing a safe, positive learning environment for students and that the board “recognizes that bullying creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, detracts from the safe environment necessary for student learning and may lead to more serious violence.”

It’s also true that bullying in this country’s schools has been responsible for more than a few young people having taken their own lives in order to free themselves from the torment.

Penn Cambria must eliminate any basis for confusion, misunderstanding or misinterpretation of its anti-bullying efforts, and so should other school districts.