The law. You can’t run from it. And, you can’t hide behind it. Simply put, the law has to be followed. One such law I want to bring to the attention of our community is the federal law, FERPA.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. FERPA is the law that prevents school districts from commenting on individual cases and is often referenced when inquiries are made about bullying incidents. While a parent or community member can disclose any information he or she sees fit on a student’s respective case, a school district cannot.
FERPA prevents school districts from confirming if an incident occurs, if it is investigated and if it is acted upon. While this law is beneficial for the protection of student privacy, it greatly limits a district’s ability to answer detailed questions to alleviate parent and community concerns.
As the board president for the Sioux City Community School District’s school board, I feel it is my responsibility to make sure the community has a more accurate understanding of this law. I sincerely want people to know that facts are not hidden, but rather protected by law.
While the district is not unique in that it experiences bullying challenges, I can attest that I witness the district taking actions to be unique in the way bullying is addressed.
More reports of bullying were brought forth last year than the year prior. While some might raise an eyebrow that this is a bad sign, I contend that it is a positive result of students and families feeling more empowered to make reports. This empowerment is a result of a series of actions implemented in the district to help students understand how to maintain a safe and civil environment.
Anti-bullying education begins in elementary school and continues through graduation. Every elementary school uses the evidence-based Second Step Program, a curriculum shown to decrease problem behaviors and promote school success, self-regulation and a sense of safety and support. The district uses Film Clips for Character Education in its middle schools. Film Clips for Character Education provides short, fully licensed clips from popular Hollywood movies with age-appropriate teacher guides designed to help students ask the right questions and discover their answers through mutual respect, creative thinking, reasoning, judging and understanding. Results include enhanced analytical thinking, mature student behaviors and positive school climates. Every high school has a group of student leaders that serves as Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP). The MVP student leaders deliver programming to peers to curb gender violence, sexual harassment and bullying. In addition, Coaching Boys into Men is a program used with high school athletes. Specifically, it teaches male athletes why they might be coached to be aggressive on the field of play, but that being aggressive is not acceptable in their interpersonal relationships.
These examples of ongoing curriculum are just a portion of the district’s proactive approach to anti-bullying. Special programming is also introduced throughout the year to help educate the whole child. Here are a few specific examples from this school year thus far:
• In November, all three high schools were shown the "Audrie & Daisy" documentary. The documentary takes a hard look at American teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying. Following the viewing of this documentary, students engaged in meaningful conversations guided by counseling staff to learn about proper cyber use, coping with cyber bullying and how to support one another.
• In December, all three high schools received a visit from Kevin Hines, a mental health advocate, award-winning speaker, bestselling author and documentary filmmaker who reaches audiences with his story of an unlikely survival and his strong will to live. During Kevin’s presentation, students were armed with tools that help them maintain positive mental health.
• This month, several schools participated in the Spread the Word to End the Word movement. Students took the pledge to change their vocabulary and replace the “R” word with respect.
• And, just last Wednesday, Riverside Elementary introduced the Stick Together program which focuses on how students treat each other, how that makes people feel, and how together students create a school of kindness, caring and respect.
Safety and civility are not just taught in schools, but rather are continually monitored and enforced. There is adult supervision on all school premises at all times. Most people are aware of the supervision provided in the classroom and during lunch, but I want to emphasize that supervision extends into the hallways and the playgrounds, too. In addition, the school buses all have cameras and microphones to monitor student safety and behavior.
It’s not enough to talk about changing the culture of our society. It’s important to take action. I am proud to serve on a school board for a district that takes action.
Mike Krysl is president of the Sioux City Community School District Board of Education.