"EHUE: We Are Bully Free" is the slogan adopted by the school, Principal Robert Cooper explained. He and Assistant Principal Joseph Domagala outlined key parts of the Olweus bullying prevention program and explained how it was being implemented.
The Olweus program aims to reduce and prevent bullying incidents in elementary, middle and junior high schools, according to its website. Cooper and Domagala said it involves students, administrators, teachers, bus drivers, parents, the school board – basically, everyone involved with the school.
"I'm afraid we're going to label everyone as a bully," said school director Scott Stedeford. "It's not right."
Cooper said children already are being labeled as bullies, and part of the Olweus program's intent is to educate people on what constitutes bullying and how to deal with it.
"A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself," according to the definition used by program creator Dan Olweus. The program has been used in schools across the country.
Stedeford said it is "easy for kids to jump on that wagon" of labeling a kid a bully.
Cooper said he did not think that was happening at the school.
Eden Hall teacher Ryan Woods said students meet with their teachers every week or two to discuss bullying and focus on establishing positive relationships.
"Empowering bystanders" is one of the pieces of the program, he said, because there are more bystanders who witness events involving bullying than there are bullies.
Domagala said the Golden Rule was another part of the program that recognizes and rewards children who exhibit good behavior.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Mary Bucci said the prevention program is "shaping the culture of the school" and teaching children the right way to behave. Classroom meetings with the students to discuss bullying gives participants the chance to discuss what is and is not bullying, she said.
School director Dr. Jeffrey Banyas asked how many reports of bullying had been received and how many were significant.
Cooper said that since the program was implemented Nov. 11, about 60 reports had been filed. For a building of 1,100 students, he continued, he did not see that as a large number.
In reply to Banyas' questions, Cooper estimated four to five of those reports were "significant."
"I don't know if we have a lot of bullies here," said board Vice President Robert Necciai. He said parents should be brought in immediately to deal with a student accused of bullying.
The bullying prevention program promotes and rewards students reporting incidents, and "we have to have that," said board President Stephen Hawbaker.
Director Therese Dawson asked how the parent advisory committee was chosen for the program.
Cooper said committee members represent each of the three grades at the school – fourth, fifth and sixth -- and that half the committee members have children affected by bullying issues.
Although many school board members seemed to be skeptical of the new program, director Kevin Nigh did not.
"I applaud what you're doing," he said.