Project Easier initiated.
Project Easier, a program Creston School District initiated to prevent bullying in schools, is part of a larger anti-bullying program the state of Iowa has been advancing to find where bullying starts and the best ways to prevent it.
The state’s program includes filing a written complaint of the bullying incident, followed by a school’s investigation and consequences.
“We do have a protocol for Project Easier in process that we go through when it comes to our attention, and we make sure the proper forms are filled out,” said Bill Messerole, Creston High School principal. “When it comes to our attention, that we do report. It’s not something that we hide, it’s something that we try to sort out at the beginning.”
The complaints can be filled out by students, parents or staff. After the investigation, forms are sent to the parents or guardians of both parties, which detail the resulting punishment.
“Our public has a concern, and a right to be concerned, about the amount of bullying that is going on,” said Scott Driskell, Creston Elementary School principal. “We would love to say that we have no bullying or harassment, but we know we can’t say that. ... We’re working every day to stop it as much as possible, and educate our students and staff and community.”
According to an Iowa Department of Education report, 16 bullying incidents were reported in Creston School District during the 2012-13 school year. Of those 16, 100 percent were in violation of the state’s anti-bullying law.
The anti-bullying law, instated in 2007, protects 17 characteristics of a person. They include things such as political belief, creed, race, religion, marital status and socioeconomic status. In 2013, sex orientation and gender identity were added to the list.
“When a report comes in now, folks have to fill out a form, and then it doesn’t go away,” said Steve McDermott, Creston School District superintendent. “Then these folks get after it. There’s more formality, rather than just someone making a quick phone call and making a claim, and then it’s ended. There’s a formal process that we follow.”
Also, according to the report, the most common places for bullying to occur were in cafeterias and hallways, while the most common characteristic a student was bullied for was because of a physical attribute such as weight or height.
However, there are concerns about the amount of potential incidents not being reported because of the length of the process.
“Word of mouth about the complaints, and what you have to go through, might be a discouraging thing,” said Sharon Snodgrass, Creston School District board member.
Current school year
According to Brad Baker, Creston Middle School principal, there has been only one incident that required a formal complaint.
“So far, we have one incident this year at our building, and we went through the entire process,” said Baker. “We interviewed all the witnesses, we documented all of that. Our hope is to be able to use that folder (documentation) throughtout our years, because if they did it in first grade, second grade, third grade, we will be able to know if they bullied once again in eighth grade.”
To help prevent bullying, the schools have organized speakers and classroom lessons. Creston High School organized several speakers, and staff and students are encouraged to attend anti-bullying and self-esteem development conferences. Staff and students will also attend an Iowa Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender conference in the spring.
“Our guidance counselors spend a lot of time in lessons talking about bullying and how to prevent it, and also empowering the person who is being bullied, as well,” said Driskell.
Students in lower grades attend book presentations, magic acts and dances to explain the importance of bullying prevention.