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Norwich and Hanover Educators, Parents Tackle Bullying Issues



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hanover — SAU 70 Superintendent Jay Badams on Monday night marveled at, and lamented, how technology has changed student social interactions and opened realms that educators struggle to keep up with — especially in light of a recent threat to Hanover High made online, allegedly from Canada.

Badams, who was born in 1965, recalled how, when he was growing up, he had to make an appointment for a playground fistfight after intervening to stop the bullying of a friend. Then he compared that to last Tuesday, when a school shooting threat on the image-sharing platform Instagram forced Hanover High to go to “closed campus” mode.

Early in the morning, administrators — and Hanover police, who surrounded the school with nearly every officer available — had little information to assess the threat’s credibility, but were forced to act. That night, police in Brantford, Ontario, arrested a 14-year-old juvenile in connection with the Instagram account, which was titled “hanoverhighshooting.”

“The fact that a 14-year-old in Canada can shut down an entire high school because of an Instagram post is truly frightening,” Badams said on Monday.

Badams spoke at a community forum on bullying in the Hanover High School library — the first of many planned events to share information and hear parents’ thoughts about issues of importance to the Hanover-Norwich school system.

The new superintendent, who arrived here in July, 2017, from Erie, Penn., spent much of the forum updating parents on the district’s ongoing response to the online incident.

Among other measures, administrators have applied for a New Hampshire state grant to enhance security systems at Hanover High, Richmond Middle School and the Ray Elementary School, he said. That could include purchasing security cameras and door safety mechanisms.

Vermont officials are scheduling a safety assessment of Marion Cross, he said, and more safety improvements may follow there, too.

In the future, Badams said, the community may discuss bringing a school resource officer to Hanover High — a proposal he said had been rejected here some years earlier, but that he thought was worth considering again.

“We are the most helpless, concentrated group of potential victims for someone of ill intent that you can imagine,” he said.

He also noted, however, that schools have to address safety without coming to resemble “an army base or a prison.” More likely than a mass shooting, he said, would be a situation where a disgruntled parent on the losing end of a custody battle turns violent at school.

To begin the talk, Badams walked the roughly 45 parents, teachers and administrators present through the process, much of it mandated by state law, that school officials follow after a bullying report. He also provided recent statistics on bullying in Dresden schools, compared to aggregate numbers in the Twin States.

A survey conducted in 2015 indicates that students in Hanover-Norwich schools report being bullied or having bullied others at a significantly lower rate than the rest of Vermont or what state officials define as “Upper Valley” schools. (New Hampshire figures aren’t available, he said, and results from a 2017 survey are forthcoming.)

Eleven percent of students at Hanover High School, for instance, reported having been bullied in the past 30 days, versus 18 percent at the average Vermont high school. Numbers were similar for cyberbullying, with 9 percent of Hanover High students reporting having been bullied online in the past 12 months, compared to 16 percent across Vermont.

“We still have a problem to deal with, but it is nice to know that it is not as rampant as one might imagine,” Badams said.

But he also noted that during the hiring process parents had repeatedly pulled him aside to alert him to bullying issues in the district, and that as superintendent he had received vague warnings that there were “things I need to know” about the climate around bullying at Hanover High.

“Nineteen percent is too much,” he said, referring to the proportion of Richmond Middle School girls who said in the 2015 survey that they had been bullied in the past 30 days.

Parents and involved community members offered a range of opinions about how to respond to bullying, with some recommending an understanding approach toward bullies, and others — some of whom said their children had been bullied — calling for officials to do more.

Linda Addante, a former Dresden School Board member, said she favored a “restorative justice” system where bullies are encouraged to make amends and receive rehabilitation for whatever underlying problems are spurring their behavior.

She and Badams, who also said he supported that approach, noted that, statistically, bullies exhibit significant health and social disadvantages later in life.

Addante, a psychiatrist, now serves on the Hanover High Council and on the school’s Restorative Justice Committee, according to its website.

“We also don’t want to create people who leave our school and go out into the world to commit greater crimes,” she said.

Megan Kitchin, whose son is in the school system, said administrators should focus on the children being bullied.

School officials have work to do in terms of taking seriously parents’ reports and taking corrective action with bullies, she added. “You’re the first administrator in six or seven years who will say, ‘Bullying happens here,’ ” she told Badams.

Near the end of the talk, Badams noted that he, himself, had a child in the 9th grade at Hanover High.

“What’s happening to everybody else’s children also happens to mine,” he said.

He added, speaking to the other parents present that night, “I’m with you in more ways than one.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727- 3242.

Correction

Hanover High School went into "closed campus" mo  de, which required students to stay inside or be checked in and out of the building, during a school shooting threat on social media on March 20. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the school's move away from its normal "open campus" privileges, which allows students in grades 10 to 12 to leave the building during free periods, that day.