Some parents and Holt Public Schools have different views on the way the district handles bullying

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The Holt High school North campus building on Feb. 10, 2017. In March it will be three years since the seniors switched from the main campus building across the street to this building.

Buses lined up outside of Holt High School's senior campus on Feb. 10. Photo by Claire Barkholz.

Buses lined up outside of Holt High School’s senior campus on Feb. 10. Photo by Claire Barkholz.

On Jan. 26 a Holt High School student was removed from a district school bus after confronting the driver about allowing bullying on the bus.

Cecellia Gilbert, a ninth-grader at Holt High School, said she witnessed two other students harassing a student with disabilities on the school bus, and after bringing the issue to the attention of the bus driver she alleged she was told to sit down and “mind her own business.”

“As far as I’m concerned the school did nothing but hide it, or should I say sweep each part of it under a rug,” said Gilbert’s mother, Jessica Hill. “From what I know the bus driver is still driving buses while my daughter walks two blocks to the new bus.”

In this circumstance the bus driver did not allegedly help stop the bullying situation, which has a lot of parents questioning how the school handles bullying situations when they arise.

“The bottom line is that the driver allowed this to go on and did nothing to stop it and instead retaliated against my daughter,” said Hill.

Relating to the bullying on the bus incident, administrators continue to evaluate “appropriate actions” for all parties involved. That could include discipline for the students doing the bullying and the bus driver.

This bullying incident in the Holt Public Schools shows that there is a difference in opinion on how well the parents feel the school handles the topic of bullying compared to how the school feels they handle the topic.

With bullying being a prominent issue in school systems since the beginning of time, Holt administrators and teachers are aware of it and feel they are taking precautions in order to try and help prevent it.

Students walk out of Holt High School at the end of the day on Feb. 10. Photo by Claire Barkholz.

Students walk out of Holt High School at the end of the day on Feb. 10. Photo by Claire Barkholz.

“We actually don’t see a lot of bullying at the high school level,” said Holt High School Principle Michael Willard. “One because they are older and understand the influence they have better. Also in many situations they are mutually interacting with each other. If there is true bullying going on then we take it very seriously as this is not appropriate in the least. We drive home the significance of this to students especially on how social media is used to bully students.”

Holt High School senior, Syri Ammon says she has a hard time deciphering when friends teasing their friends actually turns into bullying.

“I think the physical aspect of bullying like pushing people around and fighting or yelling and swearing at each other is dealt with very well by our police officers and principles,” said Ammon.

Holt public schools has practices set in place to try and reduce the amount of bullying that goes on, while also putting it on the radar of not only the students but the administrative staff.

“Every year we run a program called Challenge Day which promotes acceptance and being positive leaders,” said Willard. “This has helped to create a positive culture in our school. Also through practices of Restorative Justice, students who bully are able to see the impact it had on others. Understanding how it affects others and could affect them has a significant impact on the students.”

According to Florida Gulf Coast University Professor of Counseling, Russell A. Sabella, there seems to be a peak in bullying around the age of kids in middle school.

Hope Middle School, which is apart of the Holt Public Schools, on Apr. 18. Photo by Claire Barkholz.

Hope Middle School, which is apart of the Holt Public Schools, on Apr. 18. Photo by Claire Barkholz.

“We have received complaints of bullying throughout the school year,” said Holt Junior High School Principal Marshall Perkins. “Much of what we see at the middle level are students being mean to one another. Incidents that repeat themselves and demonstrate patterns of behavior are then labeled as bullying. We spend a lot of time with students and parents distinguishing between students being mean to one another compared to patterns of behavior.”

According to Perkins, Holt Public Schools has nearly 1000 seventh and eighth grade students, which is a larger population than some entire school districts within the area.

“Prevention through education is key,” said Perkins. “We have multiple guest speakers come and speak with our students about bullying throughout the school year. The messages shared by our presenters are echoed in our classrooms through the intentional school-wide character education program that we have developed several years ago.  Our Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) program provides our seventh grade students with explicit lessons on following behavior expectations and how to treat one another within the school building and out in the community.  With our eighth grade students, we focused on Academic Culture within lessons around career choices, setting goals, high school and post-secondary options, and developing relationships and treating others in a respectful manner.”

The way that people bully has changed drastically within the last two decades because of the new technologies created.

Cyber-bullying, which can be done over cell phones, has become a major way that kids bully each other in this day in age. Graphic by Claire Barkholz.

Cyber-bullying, which can be done over cell phones, has become a major way that kids bully each other  this day in age. Graphic by Claire Barkholz.

“Today cyber-bullying has become the more common type of bullying we see,” said Sabella. “With cyber-bullying the impact it has on kids we see is greater, but traditional bullying is more pervasive still. We are still worried about how kids treat one another in classrooms, parking lots and playgrounds.”

According to Perkins a majority of student bullying seen in the Holt schools has been through cyber-bullying as well.

“Social media allows students to interact with one another, share content, create anonymous profiles, erase discussions, hide conversations, and deliberately attack other students through negative comments and insults in such a way that previous generations did not have exposure to it,” said Perkins. “We see much more emotional bullying than physical bullying. The language, tone, and anonymity social media provides only perpetuates poor behavior and misguided decisions with many youth and adults alike.”

Despite all the programs that school districts set in place to help prevent bullying from happen, the real question is will bullying in schools ever come to an end?

“Bullying will continue to be a problem,” said Perkins. “Schools are a microcosm of our society and we are seeing a significant increase in harmful communication between adults.  This can be seen on television as highlighted by reality television shows that students watch, to the talk shows that thrive on argumentative behavior, to our political landscape that is scathing with conflict and berating of others opinions and political stances. Our students are watching the adults in their lives model these unproductive behaviors and are emulating these actions within our schools every day.”

Adults may need to set the example for kids, but kids are not oblivious to the fact that they can be the change that needs to happen as well.

“I think that if bullying is going to be prevented someone has to take a stand,” said Ammon. “Being an example for other students when someone is in a difficult situation is very helpful. If someone is getting teased and you tell them to stop or grab an adult like Cecellia did, you should be applauded for that not not turned away and embarrassed.”


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