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Efforts aim to prevent bullying

The effort to get a handle on bullying in Austin Public Schools was the focus at the Austin School Board's special meeting Monday.

Neveln Elementary School Principal Dewey Schara led an audio-visual presentation on how bullying is being addressed in schools, a topic the schools have been looking at closely for about 1  1/2 years, he said.

The Student Rights and Responsibilities manual was updated in August 2010 to include specific wording about bullying. More recently, the district has started working with a parent group, which Schara said has been "exciting."

Schara outlined what programs are being instituted at the elementary, middle and high school levels regarding bullying education and prevention. Each school has worked with a liaison officer.

In the elementary schools, there are bullying prevention lessons by the school social worker and Friendship Groups for first- and second-graders, because bullying is present at that age.

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A new program called Where Everybody Belongs will start next year at the middle school. It's similar to the high school's Link Crew, through which upperclassmen mentor younger students. Along with Link Crew at the high school, lots of retreats are also offered.

It's not all right for parents, or anyone, to downplay bullying by saying "kids will by kids," Schara said in his presentation. The lines are black and white; if it offends the victim, it's bullying, he said.

"Bullying is in the eye of the beholder," Schara said.

The primary message is that students need to feel more comfortable being able to report bullying incidents, rather than not tell anyone. Schara gave a simple explanation from one of his students about reporting bullying: Reporting is to keep us safe, tattling is to get others in trouble, he said.

"We want to know," Schara said. "There are many things that we can do."

Parent Danielle Nesvold spoke about her how her son was bullied, which eventually led to him transferring schools. She is behind the efforts to make bullying prevention a communitywide issue, not just in the schools.

"We need to get more parents involved," Nesvold said.

She suggested ways for parents to work together with the schools in order to prevent bullying, including increasing adult supervision on the playground. Nesvold made it clear that she does not want any student to hurt him or herself or commit suicide, forcing the district to react.

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"If you think that it will go away, it will not go away," Schara said. "It will not go away if you don't address it."

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