In response to mounting concern over bullying and the mental well-being of students, a number of initiatives are being planned in the Wellington Schools and across the village.
The long struggle was highlighted Nov. 28, when Samuel Oney told the Wellington board of education that his daughter, a 14-year-old Wellington High School freshman, has become fearful of attending class. She has been shoved and tripped by other students, he said.
“The true definition of bullying is someone using superior strength or influence to intimidate, persecute, harass, or strong-arm,” Oney said. “This behavior can be isolated or repeated.”
“To me, a zero tolerance policy against bullying means zero chances,” he said. “Not several chances to wait and see if a pattern develops or if it’s a repeated behavior. By definition, bullying isn’t always a repeated behavior.”
Oney asked the board what is being done to address the problem in the immediate future. Met with silence, he walked out of the meeting and said his daughter would not be attending school the following day.
“This girl sits in class and cries every day,” he said. “She comes home from school crying every day. She cries herself to sleep every night and is now afraid to come to school. What are you going to do now? Not in the future. Tomorrow.”
At the meeting, the board authorized LifeAct, a Cleveland based suicide prevention group, to begin working in the district with the organization’s services covered by grants.
According to superintendent Ed Weber, a Nov. 30 discussion with Oney and WHS principal Tina Drake ended on a more positive note.
On Dec. 1, Weber visited WHS to spend time with Oney’s daughter and gave her his personal contact information. He said he was shown examples of bullying toward her such as hostile Instagram posts.
“I had lunch with her and visited her classes,” Weber said. “She had a very good day today and seemed to be upbeat. Things have been said to her that need to have consequences. She’s a very, very nice girl.”
“I feel we’re on top of the situation,” he said. “Mrs. Drake was also on top of it today and wants to make things right. We apologized to Mr. Oney for anything that made him feel like this situation wasn’t being handled properly. We want to make sure we’re not tolerating kids being disrespectful to each other.”
Two separate “Rachel’s Challenge” assemblies will be held for WHS and McCormick Middle School students Dec. 11. The program is named in honor of Rachel Scott, the first student who was gunned down in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
Last spring, the program came to WHS for the first time and led to the creation of a Friends of Rachel Club. Members plan on training anti-bullying student advocates the afternoon of Dec. 11 at the Patricia Lindley Center for the Performing Arts, where at 6:30 p.m. there will be a community discussion on bullying and mental health awareness.
The Lorain County Board of Mental Health is holding a separate discussion on the matter at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14 at the LCCC Wellington Center.
In January, the mental health board will hold suicide prevention training sessions at WHS, which will include student questionnaires and private follow-ups if needed.
Applewood Centers, an Elyria-based counseling service contracted by the district, will conduct classroom sessions on dealing with stress for ninth- and 10th-graders and group discussions for all students in January.
Starting in the spring, training in the district will begin for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which claims to reduce instances of reported bullying in schools by 50 percent and also cut down on other negative behaviors including vandalism, fighting, theft, and truancy.
That program was started by Norwegian psychology professor Dan Olweus, who conducted the world’s first long-term study on bullying in the 1980s. His book, “Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do” has been published in 25 languages.
“This program will help create an environment of positivity and kindness,” said Drake. “It’s data-driven and has been proven to be effective. It’s something that affects all of Wellington. We’ll do the training and then aim for full implementation in the fall.”
“It will be students and staff training,” she said. “It will be about ways to identify bullying at the earliest possible point and be a big culture change for us. We just need to learn to treat people how we want to be treated and not judge.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.