City encourages collaboration on bullying concerns
The Public Safety Committee called for more collaboration between the Hudson School District and parents after the members chose not to take action on a proposed bullying ordinance Thursday night.
The ordinance was brought to the committee by Hudson father Jonathan Hayes, who said he felt more needed to be done to combat bullying.
"Bullying has been an issue in town for years," Hayes said.
Hayes' proposal, based off an adopted ordinance in Shawano, Wis., would outline a response following the school's current policy of restorative justice for first offenses.
Council Member Randy Morrissette said he was hesitant to make a parenting and school issue into a city issue. He asked for examples of bullying incidents, as he had not experienced that behavior himself as a Hudson student.
Hayes' wife Heather said while she was a sophomore at Hudson High School she was physically attacked by multiple girls in the bathroom. Heather Hayes said she supported the ordinance because it gives the school another alternative to address bullying.
Taylor Benson said she attended HHS during her freshman and sophomore years but left after she experienced bullying that took an emotional, physical and mental toll.
"I couldn't stay in that school because it was destroying me," Benson said. "I was bullied so bad that I tried committing suicide twice."
Carston Wall said he is also currently experiencing bullying at HHS and has since sixth grade.
"There are certain days where I get up and I don't even want to go to school," he said.
Though the school responded, Benson and Wall said it wasn't enough.
Student Services Director Tony Mayer said while he and the school share a common goal with Hayes, there is often confusion over the definition of bullying. Mayer said the school uses a national definition that defines bullying as an incident with an imbalance of power, intended behavior and repeated over time. Though other incidents may not fit the definition, Mayer said the school still responds to them, and they may have similar consequences.
In the last four years, the school district has had two, five, 17 and five cases of bullying. Other related incidents make up .5 percent of the total behavior incidents in a year.
"I'm not sure how much sense it makes to adopt a city ordinance with such a punitive approach for behaviors that happen so infrequently," Mayer said.
He said he would like to work with parents, the city and any other interested parties on developing more proactive, restorative approaches.
Morrissette said he was concerned about how bullying is determined, saying incidents like Benson's and Wall's were being lost and missed.
"You're using in my mind, as a parent, too narrow of a definition," Morrissette said.
Mayer explained the school's definition was a common one. School administrators are trained to investigate each incident and base the decision on credible evidence. Mayer said he was concerned a city ordinance could put families up againsts the school district.
"Because it's such a challenging area of school discipline," he said.
Hudson Middle School Principal Ann Mitchell said the school is working proactively to minimize incidents of bullying with techniques such as student leadership, reinforcing positive lessons and making smaller adviser groups. She said it is also focusing on restorative responses to bullies, which has made a big difference in decreasing incidents.
Mitchell said she wants to work with Jon Hayes and other victims to address all problematic behavior. "It's not so much what we call it but what we do," she said.
Though the committee did not take action, Morrissette encouraged Hayes and the school district to meet and work together. He also asked them to keep the city in the loop.
"There is no magic answer but we all have to work together for the best outcome we can get," Morrissette said.