Are schools doing enough to stop bullying?


When Zachary Cataldo’s daycare provider picked him up after school on Monday at Piedmont Avenue Elementary in North Oakland, she found him lying on the ground; an older kid had apparently slammed the 7-year-old into a tree, and he was too dizzy to stand up, according to Zachary’s aunt, Janine Cataldo.

Zachary was admitted to the intensive care unit of Children’s Hospital-Oakland with a fractured skull and was released last night, Cataldo said.

It wasn’t the first time the boy said he was attacked at school. Cataldo said her nephew’s front teeth were knocked out last year, when he was in kindergarten, and that he has been a regular target for bullies. 

“It’s not just bullying, it’s violent bullying,” Cataldo told me over the phone today.

Zachary’s father, Anthony Cataldo, said the latest attack happened right after school, and that no adults were around to stop it — even though he had shared his concerns about bullying with the school principal.

“That should be the safest place in the world for a child,” he said. “He’s not afraid to go back to school, but I’m afraid for him.”

The boy’s aunt was so appalled by the violence, and by the school system’s inability to prevent it, that she sent a letter this morning to district administrators and news reporters about the problem. That’s how I found out.

Denise Saddler, the district administrator who oversees Piedmont Avenue Elementary School, told me that schools generally assign staff to “yard duty” for about 10 minutes before and after school, and that she is investigating the incident.

“That’s something that we take very seriously,” Saddler said.  Everytime such an incident occurs, she said, “We want to see if there’s anything we can do differently.”

Of course, Zachary is not the only child who has been beaten up at school, and Piedmont Avenue Elementary is not the only school facing this problem. I’m writing about this particular attack in the hopes of learning more, from you, about the bullying that you’ve seen or heard about, as well as effective efforts to curb it. 

One such leadership/violence prevention model is a new Safe School Ambassadors program at Esperanza and Korematsu elementary schools (two small schools on the old Stonehurst campus). I observed part of an intensive training held last December for a group of fourth- and fifth-graders, and I plan to go back and see how it has worked.

What other programs, initiatives, procedures or crack-downs have proven effective — or ineffective — to make schools safer? How severe and widespread is school bullying, and what should schools do to better protect kids?

Feel free to post your stories and suggestions online, or to e-mail me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com. (If I don’t get back to you right away, it’s because I’ll be at a conference tomorrow and Friday.)

image from xcrazyxizzyx’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • hills parent

    Kid Power is a wonderful resource. This organization has worked with Redwood Heights Elementary. I have also worked with them in my own school district. All schools should check them out.

  • Isabel Rodriguez-Vega

    Its interesting that you happened to post about bullying at this time. In my English class we are studying bullying and putting together presentations about the problem. We are reading a series of essays about the topic, doing some outside research as well, plan on interviewing students to find out what they think, and ultimately we have to come up with a proposed solution.

    We have just started the project so I can’t really answer any of your questions now, but I will let you know once we get more into it.

  • Nextset

    I hope the family involved have retained counsel at once for a personal injury lawsuit. If the school can’t operate in a safe manner the staff should be replaced with new staff who can do their jobs. And I’m not talking about the playground attendant, I mean the principal and all of the management.

  • Doowhopper

    The whole bullying mentality starts at home where kids watch their parents and siblings berate and belittle those that are different-it could be a different race,a different gender,a different class,a different sexual orienation,whatever.
    The kid learns that some people are OK and others are not.And if you feel you need to express your disgust at the”other”using violence?-Oh,well.

  • cranky teacher

    All kids bully in some ways at some time. I lot of bullying is psychological.

    But my experience as a kid and an involved parent in my son’s school is that a few “repeat offenders” account for most physical attacks. Because they are little, they are not kicked out to an alternative school. Interventions with these kids must be aggressive, consistent and consequential for the parents or you are just waiting for the next explosion.

    If kids can’t restrain their violent impulses, they need to put in the equivalent of a special day class. I’ve seen kids kept in mainstream classes who assault kids and teachers EVERY DAY, because they are intelligent and nobody wants to give up on them. Meanwhile, other kids start to suffer severe anxiety and even psychosomatic illnesses out of fear of the bully.

    If parents realize their kids are going to suffer severe consequences like the feared special ed label, then maybe they wouldn’t allow it to continue.

  • cranky teacher

    Here’s a different view, which is that bullying can be relieved through creating a positive school environment:

    What Can Schools Do?

    Today, schools typically respond to bullying, or other school violence, with reactive measures. However, installing metal detectors or surveillance cameras or hiring police to patrol the halls have no tangible positive results. Policies of “Zero Tolerance” (severe consequence for any behavior defined as dangerous such as bullying or carrying a weapon) rely on exclusionary measures (suspension, expulsion) that have long-term negative effects.

    Instead, researchers advocate school-wide prevention programs that promote a positive school and community climate. Existing programs can effectively reduce the occurrence of bullying; in fact, one program decreased peer victimization by 50%. Such programs require the participation and commitment of students, parents, educators and members of the community. Effective school programs include:

    Early intervention. Researchers advocate intervening in elementary or middle school, or as early as preschool. Group and building-wide social skills training is highly recommended, as well as counseling and systematic aggression interventions for students exhibiting bullying and victim behaviors.
    Parent training. Parents must learn to reinforce their children`s positive behavior patterns and model appropriate interpersonal interactions.
    Teacher training. Training can help teachers identify and respond to potentially damaging victimization as well as to implement positive feedback and modeling to address appropriate social interactions.
    Attitude change. Researchers maintain that society must cease defending bullying behavior as part of growing up or with the attitude of “kids will be kids.” Bullying can be stopped! School personnel should never ignore bullying behaviors.
    Positive school environment. Schools with easily understood rules of conduct, smaller class sizes, and fair discipline practices report less violence. A positive school climate will reduce bullying and victimization.

  • Sue

    About a month ago on a different blog, the subject of bullying came up, with the focus on a NY Times article:


    I hope that link works!

    Here’s what I posted on that blog:
    I was the target of a pack of girls – for years. The teachers and principal knew it, but one of the leaders of that pack was the youngest daughter of the principal and one of the teachers. Tough luck for me. I finally stopped being their primary target when another smart-but-strange kid moved into the district. But the bullying didn’t really end. It was just reduced from me and redirected elsewhere.

    When my family moved away from that town, and I started at a new school, I finally found some friends and stopped having problems. I try to never think about those years in that small-minded community.

    I don’t know what I would say if either of my kids were being bullied, since I never found a solution to my own problems.

    When younger son was just starting kindergarten, a janitor screamed at him and reduced him to tears for entering the school through the “wrong” door – the one that was closest to the kindergarten classrooms. DH tried to resolve that with the school admininstration and got nowhere. Within two weeks we had him at a different school where children were treated appropriately by the staff.

    Older son has a full-time one-on-one aide as part of his autism inclusion program – not all the kids in the program get that, but it’s in our son’s IEP – so, he’s pretty well protected from the risk of bullying.

    The only solution I know is to get away from a bully permanently.

    Here’s what I want to add, specifically for this Oakland family:

    Our older son was a Piedmont Avenue Elementary for one year, 4th grade, after he’d graduated from the Communication Handicap special day class, and before the district started the Autism Spectrum Inclusion Program, which he attended at Carl B Munck in 5th grade. He was the target of a bully at Piedmont, and the other kids in his class were defending him as best they could. I’m thankful for those kids, and for my son’s personality that brings that out in nearly everyone. But Piedmont did nothing until we (and some other parents in our son’s class, I suspect) started suggesting that legal action might be needed to resolve the problem. Eventually, that bully got evaluated for Spec. Ed. and removed – DH and I thought the kid was also autism-spectrum, and had tried to suggest to his parents that they should be receiving some of the same services that our boy got. We also thought the bully was jealous of our boy’s aide and the positive attention he was getting.

    My recommendation to Zachary’s family, move your boy to Carl B Munck immediately! The difference will be obvious.

    At Munck (our younger son is a 5th grader there) they’ve taken the comprehensive early-intervention approach that Cranky Teacher advocates. When younger son was a 3rd grader, he got conflict mediation training and became part of the playground mediation team. Kids who’d watch out for others, and could step in and intervene if there was any sort of conflict on the playground, but also were trained when to get adult help. He was very, very proud the one and only time he used those skills and settled a situation.

    This isn’t all that they’re doing at Munck, just what I’m most familiar with. Staff gets training too, and the school atmosphere is just completely different than what we saw at Piedmont. The kids are treated with respect, and treat each other with respect – dis’ing and bullying are nearly non-existent, and it’s noticed and nipped in the bud whenever someone tries to start.

  • Malcolm

    It breaks my heart to hear of ANY child being bullied-black, white, latino, asian or whatever… And my heart truly goes out to little Zachary and his family. What kind of a person physically harms a 7 year-old? How can the the school principal be so indifferent, apathetic? Think about it. This is a little 7 year-old that has been brutally bullied!!! And for what? When are people going to recognize that human life means nothing to a savage. Sadly, Oakland is awash in a sea of political correctness. The savage bully in question, will most likely be handled as a “Victim” likewise the school administrators. In fact, they’ll be promoted and welcomed as heroes. Little Zachary will be accused of being the perpetrator and nothing will be done. Like Alice in Wonderland…'”where wrong is right and up is down.” Welcome to Ron Dellums’ do-nothing Thug-Land!

  • Nextset

    Does anybody other than me think that this incident is racially motivated?

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset: Kids under ten usually do not have the same identification with race and other identities as older kids. While they may sense such differences, and even seem to group by them, they do not focus on them in the same ways.

    Now, if you are a kid from a middle-class background with lower-class kids, you are more likely to be bullied because you are not accustomed to the level of physical conflict associated with the “street” or with troubled families.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Baloney. Race differences are in play at 1st grade. Those who pretend otherwise preside over exactly the kind of thing that appears to be happening in this incident. The child was let down by adults in his life who should have protected him from being nearly murdered at the hands of feral kids.

    No doubt all the adults in this piece are liberals. That mindset consistently is incapable of protecting themselves, their employees or their charges from physical harm. Terrible thing for a child to have to grow up with. Which is why liberal mindsets fail when exposed to the light of reality. Pain is a great teacher, some people only learn the hard way.

  • Sue

    Um, Nextset, do you know something about the kid(s) who attacked Zachary? Something more than the news articles? Have you contacted the police with this information?

    Or is this just wild speculation on your part, and you don’t really know anything more that the rest of us?

    The kid who bullied my son at Piedmont Avenue Elementary six years ago was the same race as my son, and the kids who protected my son from the bully were of several different races.

    I think you could be projecting your not-so-hidden-agenda onto a situation where may not fit.

  • Nextset

    Sue, I could be – and maybe not. The stats of the various schools are well known. And you’re darn right I’m concerned black majority schools are allowed to have slack discipline. Think of it as a service cut. One that didn’t exist generations ago when appeasement wasn’t so important.

    If you have contacts, can you shed any loght on how this injury happened? Did the kid actually trip and fall and hit his head, or what?

  • Sue

    I have no contacts, or information beyond what I’ve read in the various news reports… which might not be 100% reliable.

    I guess we’ll know more when/if police identify a suspect or suspects, and if charges are filed.

  • John

    It has been my observation that the hate in (so called) “hate crimes” is attributed to one ethnic (color) group. When a talk show host responded to an Afro American caller that his comments sounded “racist” the caller indigently responded, “But I’m Afro American!,” as though he was somehow immune to having racist propensities. This misguided perception is sustained by the actions and comments of a politically correct herd culture and reinforced by an almost exclusive majority prosecution of white folk for hate crimes and/or violation of a minority’s civil rights, sometimes giving prosecutors a second (double jeopardy) shot at prosecuting someone found “NOT guilty” of crimes against minorities.

    In connection with the protected racial class mentality, if the attacker(s) in this cited playground incident were say Afro American and the victim was say Latino no one would dare allege the attack was racially motivated! Bringing such an allegation would be like bringing a skunk to the “diversity celebration.” This blog’s accompanying cartoon depicts a white boy bullying another white boy (good choice!). Change the ethnicity of the victim and you have a possible hate crime. Change the ethnicity of the aggressor and it’s bullying.

    Whites are advised to “practice tolerance” (of minority intolerance), which is good advice for those at risk for losing their equilibrium on a not level playing field where they’re more vulnerable to hate crime accusation and prosecution. It would seem that the majority are passively to actively agreeable to an unfair playing field slope reversal, where it’s now the white guy’s turn to experience unequal treatment in compliance with ‘two wrongs make a right.’

    It’s another version of “doctrine of original sin” just desserts, this time meted out to whites for the sins of their forewhites – as if punishment for the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve isn’t burdensome enough for everyone! But in unfairness, during the American slave era some (so called) Christian ministers justified the plight of slaves as a consequence of the Biblical “mark of Cain.” So unfair is fair, right!?

    Perhaps there’s an argument here for establishing white segregated schools where those “predisposed” to race based hate crimes would be separated from those who require (legislative) protection. The protected racial class(es) would then be “free at last” to academically excel in hate free learning environments.

  • Foothills Mom

    I want to clarify that this horrible incident did not take place on the school playground; it happened on the lawn in front of the school at approximately 3:30pm. School lets out at 3pm and the crossing guard as well as a teacher were out there until 3:10 or 3:15 until almost everyone had been picked up or handed off to their after school program. At this point, that’s as long as a teacher can stay out front; the teachers have to go pick up their own kids! The crossing guard continued to help kids cross the street after that time. I say this only to be clear about the when and the where of the incident.

    I hear that the child is home and feeling much better, at least physically. I’m sure that the emotional side of things will take longer to work out. I don’t know if he will return to Piedmont Avenue; I understand that his family lives across the street from another OUSD school, so perhaps he will transfer back to his neighborhood school in the fall. I know we all wish him every possible chance for a positive school experience next year.

  • Nextset

    Foothills Mom: Thanks for the information. OUSD needs to get information out on such incidents so that the air is kept clear about Campus Crime.

    John: I can’t understand your post. The only segregated schools we need are those segregated by cognitive skills and deportment. The racial issue is interesting and may be linked to behavior in time and place but that all changes. There should be public schools with higher standards and public schools for the rest and the consumers can apply for whatever they want to fit into. So people don’t have to move to send their kids to a public school they won’t get terrorized in.

    As far as who is committing racial (hate crimes)attacks, well that’s old news to anybody in the courts and it’s not the whites this decade in this state. On the other hand Los Angeles is seeing racial cleansing by bullets – hispanic vs black with the blacks losing lately. I see Asian gangs taking over formerly black apartment complexes. So all this is a matter of dates and locales. Ain’t diversity grand??