Intervention: A new battle against bullies

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – A school district in Hampton Roads is taking extraordinary measures in the battle against bullying. Portsmouth schools have called for an intervention in the sixth grade of Churchland Elementary School.

Several parents told 10 On Your Side about bullying that began before Christmas and persisted for several months. Robert DePue, the father of one of the victims, said his son has been assaulted, shoved into a urinal, and tormented by a group of four bullies. “He tells the teachers, they report it to the office, or he tells the assistant principal, and nothing is done to these kids,” DePue said.

Other parents told similar stories but did not want to be quoted for fear of retribution against their children.Churchland Elementary School generic

Superintendent David Stuckwisch called for an intervention at Churchland, that involved students, teachers, parents and counselors. The intervention consists of three different types of measures: universal, targeted and intensive.

Universal measures involved talking with large groups of sixth graders by dividing the class of about one hundred into boys and girls. “This gives them an opportunity to be able to identify the behaviors that may be classified as bullying. Looking at resistance skills, looking at how, if you’re not the victim, how you might be able to assist and support the victim,” said Sarah Sugars, who is coordinating the intervention from her office with the school district.

The second level, targeted measures, involved smaller groups of students, either those who identify themselves as victims, or those who have been identified as aggressors. “Trying to get them to develop some empathy for those who are the victims and to understand how they would feel if it were them,” Sugars said.

The intensive level brings a bully and a victim face to face. Sugars said that went well, and the students pledged to work toward a resolution. Now the next step is for their parents to meet face to face as well. Ultimately, Sugars says the students must take ownership of the solution.

“If a youngster is weak in math or science, we give them the skills. If their social skills are weak, I think we have the same responsibility,” said Sugars.

DePue says his son enjoyed school until this year when the bullying started. “We’ve never had this before. I’ve never had to… lie to my son and say ‘go to school everything’s going to be alright’ – when he leaves my stomach hurts, because I’m waiting for that phone call that he’s beat up or something’s happened again,” DePue said.

The Portsmouth school superintendent called for the intervention, but he is retiring this summer. Board members promise not to let bullying be relegated to the back burner. “No, it won’t get put on the back burner because I won’t let it get put on the back burner,” said school board member Ted Lamb.

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