High bullying reports invite investigation

In a recent article in the Monterey County Weekly, Carmel Unified School District is identified as having the county’s highest bullying rates, based on a draft report by the Monterey County Mental Health Commission. However, the study’s statistics, compiled from the 2008-2010 California Healthy Kids Survey, are no longer relevant, and current results indicate lower rates.

Specifically, in the 2008-2009 CHKS approximately 30 percent of seventh graders, 26 percent of ninth graders and 23 percent of 11th graders in CUSD reported “having mean rumors or lies spread about [them]” at least two times a year.

CUSD’s physical violence rates are admirably low, so an analysis of the more-prevalent verbal harassment, involving differences as varied as race, gender and disability, may be more applicable.

According to the more recent 2012-2013 CHKS, seventh and ninth grade statistics on hurtful rumors decreased, while the 23-percent rate for juniors remained the same.

CHS support counselor Kate Miller is surprised by the high figures, and assistant principal Martin Enriquez says he only deals disciplinarily with two or three major bullying incidents a year.

So where does the bullying happen?

Miller says that cases of elusive-to-track cyberbullying are most common, while, in her words, most other cases are “challenging to determine because a lot of kids don’t report bullying.”

It cannot be ignored, however, that in the Mental Health Commission’s study, CHS juniors did report bullying rates at least six percent higher than almost every other public high school in Monterey County—whose overall averages were in line with the state’s.

But new programs have begun. Just last year, Carmel Middle School adopted the anti-bullying Not in Our School program, according to CMS counselor Melissa Magreta.

CMS assistant principal Dan Morgan sees progress afoot. “We are seeing a systematic change as kids are getting a positive message about how to treat each other at an early age,” he asserts.

In the same vein, CUSD’s chief student services officer Heath Rocha was quoted in the Weekly’s article with the following: “To say we are the worst couldn’t be further from the truth.”

On the CHS disciplinary front, Enriquez believes that policies of zero tolerance are ineffective: “Zero tolerance means you do it, you’re out. There’s no form of education to it…. I believe in sitting down with these kids and trying to figure out [solutions].”

But neither solutions nor services can occur if they are not sought. In the words of a junior at Seaside High who transferred out of CUSD in part because of bullying, “If there’s one thing that I really regret…it’s not standing up for myself when I should have…. Don’t take it sitting down. Stand up for yourself.”
-Michael Montgomery