Despite statistics that show most students and faculty in schools across the nation have witnessed bullying, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools found the rate of bullying in our local schools to be lower than expected.
Rather than accept victory, John Concelman, CMS’ resident Bullying Prevention Specialist, decided to take a closer look at why that rate might be so low.
“I’d love to pat ourselves on the back and say that we’re doing a fantastic job,” he said, “but before we do that, we have to look at all means.”
He started with examining how students report bullying in CMS.
Schools were equipped with boxes where written complaints could be dropped off, but most students looking to report an incident relied on a PDF form that could be e-mailed or mailed directly to a school. But in that case, it was difficult for students to remain anonymous and often kept them from feeling safe reporting a problem.
Although Concelman did receive reports of both physical and cyber-bullying under that method, he found himself asking if perhaps more students were just staying quiet.
“When it was extremely low,” he said, “I had to ask myself, you know, ‘Are we providing enough opportunities for this to be reported through the means that we have, or we do just have a really low bullying incident rate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools?'”
To combat the possibility that students simply weren’t reporting negative experiences at school, Concelman and CMS debuted an anonymous online platform for reporting instances of bullying.
In its current version (the platform will be upgraded over the summer), the landing page directs users to a questionnaire with details such as the date and location of the incident, as well as the individuals involved. No contact information is needed, though it is warned that not including it could hinder the investigation.
When a report is submitted, it’s sent to Concelman, who then reviews it and decides the best course of action, which varies. For some, he puts together a team to send to the school, but for others, he can resolve the problem on his own. Some reports don’t even fall into the category of bullying, but are behavioral issues that need to be acknowledged.
It’s important to remember that Concelman’s job isn’t to suspend or punish a student, even if they are bullying.
“It’s not about punishment or a negative, harsh consequence,” he said. “It’s about how can we help children prevent this from recurring on both sides?”
Since launching in late April, Concelman says he’s already seen the anonymous platform used.
“We get quite a few reports in,” he said.
In terms of measuring the success of the platform, Concelman says he’s looking for frequency and repetition. Should he not hear from a reporter after his solution is put into place, he counts it as a success.