Harassment policy explained through administrative voice

According to the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey, a statewide survey conducted in schools every two years during the month of October, 22.6 percent of the sophomores and 16.4 percent of the seniors surveyed marked that they were bullied in the past 30 days.
Whether it takes form as cyber, physical or verbal, Principal Eric Fredericks assures that it is crucial to report harassment as soon as possible.
“The most important thing is to seek assistance as early as possible. The most frustrating and helpless feeling for me as an administrator is when a family shows up in my office saying they want to leave PHS and I have had no prior knowledge of any [harassment] going on,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks furthermore stresses the importance of being willing to reveal names.
“They will describe incidents of bullying that can be so severe and often they do not want to divulge names because they fear retribution as well,” Fredericks said. “It is just a helpless feeling and the thing that frustrates me is that most people who bully do not bully just one person, they bully many people. And I cannot identify them and hopefully stop whoever it is who is bullying.”
Vice Principal Maija Thiel explains why some students feel the urge to harass others.
“One reason [bullies] could have seen harassment as a normal way of life or they see other people doing it and think that it is okay. They could have been harassed themselves and also think that is normal,” Thiel said. “I think a lot of times it comes from misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge or lack of caring about someone else. Sometimes [our job] is [about] reminding someone [that] we are all human and that we need to care for each other.”
Junior Hannah Eilers advises students who are currently being harassed to seek help.
“I think harassment can lead to self-harm and lowered self-image because harassment can make people feel bad about themselves,” Eilers said. “[I would advise] anyone who is being harassed to tell someone because there will always be someone to help.”
Thiel adds to the possible effects harassment could have on students.
“It will often make students uncomfortable and make it hard for them to be at school. But it also can isolate a student, make them feel like they are really alone [and] not a part of things. They can feel fearful, depressed or angry. They feel that they are not valuable and they need to be reminded that it is important to stand up for themselves but in the right way and also to take our help to do that,” Thiel said.
In order to receive help with a harassment issue a student must report what is happening. Theil explains some of the various ways student can report an incident of harassment.
“We have some boxes in the counseling office, at the attendance office or in the main office, so you can [report harassment] anonymously. [However], it is better to come to an administrator because we will not be able to help as well without clear information,” Thiel said. “We are very open to helping and you can go to any adult and tell them that something is happening and that will be forwarded on to us.”
Of the varying types of harassment, Fredericks says cyberbullying is the most frequently reported form of harassment at PHS. However, it can only be addressed if the harassment distrupts the learning process.
“The most frequently reported type of harassment is cyberbullying. Sometimes it is a direct result of things that is happening in school but often it starts out of school and it cares into school,” Fredericks said. “If it happens out of school it is typically not something we can deal with but when it spills over into school that is when we get involved.”
Fredericks later shares the procedure administration staff follow when handling cases of harassment.
“We try to handle [harassment] at the lowest level first, simply by investigating what has been going on. Then [we] more or less help the students involved understand the implications of continuing [the harassment],” Fredericks said. “Sometimes it does not stop, in which case, we exercise a different approach such as no-contact contracts all the way up to suspensions if necessary. There have been a few times that we have had to suspend but we usually do not have to get there.”
However, Fredericks views discipline as an opportunity to educate and help people grow, not just a way to punish disagreeable behavior.
“I do not think people really think about the implications until they are involved. I do not think any of us do. In terms of effectiveness, I look at discipline as an opportunity to be educational and to help some people grow,” Fredericks said.
Although harassment may seem like a dauntingly large issue, Thiel believes the key to preventing harassment in the future is to learn how to treat each other with respect and care.
“For me it just comes down to treating each other with respect and care. We are all a part of a family whether it is in our school or our community. Everybody is as important as anybody else. If we can respect that and understand that then it makes a big difference. A lot of it is helping each other, if you see harassment happening even as a student speak up and defend them,” Thiel said.