After a bullying incident on a Roseburg Public Schools bus on Sept. 10, Robert Freeman, interim school district superintendent, said administrators acted to ensure the safety and protection of all students involved.
The school district did not have an official response to the incident, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. However, Freeman said the district has been working with the Roseburg Police Department and the First Student bus company to investigate the situation.
Freeman’s comments were in response to the Sept. 10 incident where a video showed one student appearing to punch and kick another student identified as Keenen Adkins, 14. His mother, Stephanie Sprague said this is not the first case of bullying from the same student assailant. Sprague said in a story published immediately after the incident that the school district is not taking responsibility for what happened.
Freeman declined to comment specifically on this case, but said the district takes allegations of school bullying very seriously. Freeman remains as interim superintendent until Oct. 29 when Lee Paterson will assume the role for the remainder of school year.
Freeman did not respond to records requests for reports from First Student to the district regarding incidents of student misbehavior on the buses. The district contracted Ohio-based First Student to manage student transportation in 2016.
“We’re not trying to hide anything — we’re actually trying to protect the rights of our students,” Freeman said. “Anytime an incident happens, we respond immediately to that situation. We make sure that all students involved are safe and are cared for, and we look for opportunities to educate and prevent that happening again.”
Freeman said the district makes behavior a priority and the behavior expectations in the classroom should transfer to other situations, like on the bus.
According to Rick Burton, director of student services for Roseburg Public Schools, the district’s expectation is for students to be safe, respectful and responsible. He said the district works with the classroom management pyramid, which assumes 80 percent students come to school ready to learn and obey, 15 percent have difficulty doing their best without additional support and 5 percent need more intensive support.
“It’s like teaching confidence because lessons are good, but children learn the context in which they have to practice the changes we are asking,” Burton said. “You can’t teach lessons to students and expect them to go out and actively do it. So that’s where the coaching comes in. Kids change when they’re in the context in which they are struggling and then they work through that in coaching.”
Freeman said the behavior programs — such the behavior teams, in-school suspension and meeting with counselors — actually prevent incidents at their schools every day. He described a senior from the high school who stepped in during the bus incident to stop the altercation. Freeman said the district is proud of that student and the way he used the skills he learned at school to intervene in the situation.
The bus company did not respond to phone calls to comment. The contract between the school and the bus company says “the contractor shall take reasonable steps to prohibit its employees from exposing any pupil to impropriety of word or conduct,” but “the ultimate responsibility and authority to suspend or expel any pupil from transportation service hereunder shall rest with the district.”
Freeman said both parties fulfilled their responsibilities concerning student safety.
“The majority incidents that happen on the bus are handled at the building level,” Freeman said. “It’s very rare that an incident like an assault happens that brings it to the district level. Through our PBIS and other systems that are in place, we not only teach behavior expectations at school, but also when they are away from school like on the bus. Actually, we teach that we want kids to hold to those behavior expectations even when adults aren’t looking. That’s when we really know those programs are effective.”
The juvenile detention center confirmed the offending student was detained with them on charges of assault and disorderly conduct for eight days, but his parents indicated through Facebook he was back in school.
Fremont Middle School Principal Ben Bentea said teachers and counselors can only work with students in school, not if the students are sent home for suspension or expulsion.
“When students misbehave, we at Fremont feel thats an opportunity for learning,” Bentea said. “When a kid makes a mistake, our job is not just to give a consequence and both of us to move on with our lives but our job is to help learn students learn from those behaviors. When they go into our in-school suspension room we collect homework so academically they aren’t falling behind, but then there’s also a restorative practice. We use behavior mistakes as an opportunity for building relationships, building connections, and learning from those mistakes.”
Bentea said students sent to in-school suspension fill out reflection sheets and create an action plan with an adult to address their behavior and make things right.
In-school suspension programs have been in schools since the 1970s. The suspensions remove students from the classroom and sequesters them so a teacher can supervise them and work on their behavior. Roseburg High School Principal Jill Weber said her school has the same suspension program.
“They have social and emotional lessons in there that are more intensive,” Weber said. “They usually do some sort of community service, and really keep them engaged. They can transition back into the classroom in school much easier than being gone for three days and getting further behind in schooling and not building their skills. All that we’re doing in the building has to be wrapped around the understanding of who our children are and how they are coming to us and the work that we do with them.”
Freeman said it’s the district’s philosophy that behavior needs to be managed before education can happen so the district has invested in several programs in every school to work with students on behavior issues.
“Some incidents require consequences, but consequences alone doesn’t change behavior, so educational intervention has to be a component of any solution to help kids be successful,” he said. “Administration looks at the system after every incident and tries to determine where in the system was the breakdown that allowed an incident to happen and fix that system.”
PART OF LIFE
Freeman said parents and teachers would like to see students go through school without any issues but it’s part of life as an adult, and the staff wants to take its time with students to prepare them to deal with internal and external issues as adults.
“I think, often, parents want to make sure their kids are safe and have an event-free life,” he said. “Unfortunately, we all know that’s not reality. Our job is to use incidents that happen to help them fill their toolbox because we know as kids get older, incidents get more and more complex. We need to use those incidents that often get referred to as bullying as opportunities for learning on all stakeholders’ parts.”
One of the programs championed by several principals is Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The program equips schools to deal with social, emotional and behavioral issues to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of each student’s education.
“Basically the gist of it is you teach kids what you want, you positively reinforce it when they do it,” Weber said. “If they are not, then you reteach it so that they understand it. It’s really amazing how that works when you really are showing kids what you want and expect.”
The school district encourages students to report when they see something contrary to those guiding principles to administration or SafeOregon, an anonymous, multi-platform reporting system.
“It is a very important tool for parents to know about,” parent Larissa Hoskins said. “If parents know it’s there and we encourage our children to use it, it is a magnificent tool. It gives them that trust with somebody outside of the immediate that helps encourage them to do good and do the right thing.”
Hoskins said it lets parents and students who aren’t comfortable approaching administration have an outlet to report situations they feel are unsafe. Weber said it also helps with situations happing outside of normal school hours. The system alerts administration immediately when a report is filed and can immediately elevate to police when necessary.
“It gives us a heads up to things we need to pay attention to,” Weber said. “With 1,554 students, I don’t always know every single one of them and what’s going on, but I want to know. When that comes through in our email we’re all on it right away.”
Freeman said he believes in the effectiveness of their programs.
“I think a lot of these systems are effective at teaching kids to have those tools in their toolbox to avoid situations,” Freeman said. “The reason I think those happen is very few reach these situations where they’ve made really bad choices that we have to then react to.”
Janelle Polcyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.