The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 17, 2010

Carlisle School and police team up to deter bullying

School Superintendent Joyce Mehaffey and police officer Ron Holsinger appeared together on December 8 at a talk with parents about bullying.

Mehaffey reported on preliminary results from a recent study conducted with students at the Carlisle School. The study broke out responses from elementary (grades 3 to 5) and middle school (grades 6 to 8). A total of 217 children in elementary school and 222 in middle school participated in the survey. Some of the early findings include:

• Almost half of the students say they have been bullied. Forty-five percent of elementary and 47% of middle school students reported being bullied at least once at school.

• The playground is a prime location – 42% of the elementary students reported the bullying occurred on the playground, while 18% said it occurred in the classroom. Middle-school students reported the cafeteria (22%), the classroom (21%) and the hallways (19%) as the main locations for bullying with outside of school (18%) as the next most frequent.

• For older students, bullying is often verbal, with 56% of middle school students reporting “name calling” and “taunting” as bullying acts. Twenty-nine percent said the bullying was physical.

Mehaffey noted that a flaw in the study was measuring when the bullying occurred – whether in elementary school or in middle school. In addition, she said that although the students surveyed thought that more bullying occurs at the high school, a similar study being done at the high school indicates that more bullying happens in earlier grades.

Mehaffey restated the school’s “zero tolerance” for bullying and referred parents to the Carlisle Student Handbook for details. She defined bullying at the onset of the talk as “the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination directed at a victim.” Mehaffey said that bullying:

• Causes physical or emotional harm

• Places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to self or property

• Creates a hostile environment at school for the target

• Infringes on the victim’s rights at school

•Materially and substantially disrupts the education process

Mehaffey noted that while the bullies of today may be popular and get along with adults they are at risk of getting into legal trouble. She said that gender differences indicate that girls tend to bully because they are angry and are often more involved in cyber-bullying than face-to-face bullying.” Boys often say they are “just joking” but Mehaffey cautioned that what looks like a joke could be breaking the law. Bullies may be fined up to $1,000 and receive jail time up to five years.

School’s response, tips for parents

Massachusetts law enacted on May 3 addresses bullying at schools. Everyone – a student, a parent, a teacher – who encounters bullying should report it. A school psychologist files a report and the school then conducts an investigation. After an investigation is completed, the school psychologist comes up with a plan for further action and communicates with both students’ parents. Mehaffey noted that the privacy of both parties is paramount throughout the investigation.

Some behaviors, while rude and hurtful, may not meet the definition of “bullying” as defined at the onset of the talk. Mehaffey acknowledged that such student conflicts require intervention, but do not require “reporting under the law.” She encouraged parents and students to contact a school psychologist if there is any doubt.

Mehaffey identified signs for a parent to look for in determining if a child is being bullied. They included: changes in behavior, general unhappiness and problems eating or sleeping. Suggestions she provided for parents included: keep computers in common spaces, take cell phones during the night and print out any examples of cyberbullying. She called on parents to gather details and report incidents to a school psychologist.

Mehaffey later described the school’s anti-bullying club. Students meet on Fridays of their own volition with physical education teacher Lynn Carmel to discuss bullying issues. They are creating videos which illustrate bullying scenarios. Their first video will probably air before the holidays and will be displayed in classrooms over the Active boards.

The school and the police department have a long-standing policy of working together closely, she said. The two organizations report bullying to each other, even if the event takes place off the school grounds, contrary to what some parents believe. Mehaffey noted that such information does “not go into a student’s permanent record.” When pressed, she added that some information about a bully may not be sent on to a high school. She says,“Kids are capable of change. Particularly in middle school, kids aren’t really aware of how their behavior may be impacting others. Raising their awareness and stopping the behavior sometimes takes practice.”

Nationally, one in four children is bullied monthly

While Carlisle statistics are immediately relevant, Mehaffey quoted the findings of the American Justice Department that indicate that one out of four children is bullied on a monthly basis. She cited playground statistics that every seven minutes a child is bullied and that no intervention occurs in 85% of the cases.

Long-term effects of bullying on victims include difficulty adjusting socially and psychologically, depression, low self-esteem and even possible changes in brain chemistry, Mehaffey said.


At the end of the talk, Mehaffey referred to relevant websites for parents to consult including:,, ∆

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