Is bullying inevitable?

irodriguez21.jpgAbout a month ago Katy posted a blog about Zachary Cataldo, a first-grader at Piedmont Avenue Elementary who was severely hurt by another student. This brought up the issue of bullying, a topic that my English class has been studying extensively for the past month.

Our assignment was to research the topic, come up with a solution (in this case a code of conduct, which is lacking at Skyline) and then present to various groups throughout the school (parents, teachers, students, faculty).

We presented last Wednesday and Thursday in groups of about 5, and now that I am more knowledgeable on the subject, I thought I’d share.

One thing I learned through this project is that bullying is hard to define and identify. My group presented to teachers and one point we discussed was that although bullying is obviously a problem at Skyline, it is hard to differentiate between bullying and “playing around” specifically in the hallways during passing period. The type of bullying I am speaking about and the type that is most common at Skyline is “sexual bullying” or sexual harassment.

The teachers said that although they feel certain behavior is inappropriate, it is hard to know when to intervene. Also, teachers felt that inappropriate behavior in the hallways is so common that it has just become normal to them. However, different teachers have different opinions about this. One group in the class even got into a heated argument with our English teacher about what is appropriate and what is not. Our teacher felt, as many others do, that any sort of touching in the hallways is inappropriate. Students disagree.

The big question, however, is how to stop this type of bullying, and bullying in general. My group focused more on preventative methods of solution rather than expulsion or suspension. But as the teachers pointed out, it will take the whole Skyline community working together to really solve the problem.

What do you guys think? What is the solution? Is there a solution to bullying or is it inevitable?


  • anonamom

    woh! Students disagree that touching is inappropriate? Does that meant they think students should be allowed to sexually touch other students without permission, in other words sexually assault other students…in the halls at school???!!!!! Teachers have gotten so used to it that they don’t intervene and it has become normal???!!! Ummm excuse me how about a sexual harassment lawsuit? No way would I want to attend or send my child to a school that tolerated any sort of sexual assault, bullying, or unwanted touching. Believe me that this is even a question is one of the reasons why folks leave OUSD in the upper grades.

    I am so sorry you are experiencing this kind of sexual harassment in your school. It can leave deep scars. Please realize it is NOT normal or appropriate.

    Katy, here’s a story worth covering.

  • anonamom

    Just wanted to add I applaud you and your teacher for taking this on. Breaking the silence is the first step towards fixing the problem.

  • Nextset

    The bullying will not stop. Think of it this way. OUSD “schools” are really jails. Children are sentenced to them by their parent(s). We all know what happens in jails, it’s law of the jungle – let the strong survive.

    The Politically correct BS that infects the thinking of OUSD staff prevents them from correcting the students grammer – and correcting their behavior… Gee, that’s like jail also. As in a jail the guards usually intervene when they actually see one impate attacking another with a weapon. But people do get stabbed. Or maybe they fell on the shank 10 times.

    Went I went to a public high school in the East Bay a lifetime ago there was no ambiguity that the school regulated everybody’s behavior including verbal, to and from school and at all times during. But then this was a high school that EXPELLED people for skipping a class 2 weeks before graduation – and any other time they’d had enough. Bullying cannot stop at a school that practices indiscipline and that’s OUSD. You can’t maintain discipline while allowing people to practice their “culture”.

    If a parent can do no better for their child that OUSD, get them into combat training classes. The karate instructor can take over how you child handles bullies. It’s simpler to let an expert handle it. Most single mothers (and exactly who sends their child to OUSD??) can’t hack battle strategy anyway.

  • Isabel Rodriguez-Vega

    I just wanted to add that I’m not trying to say OUSD is some sort of “jungle” where students run rampant in the hallways, and that its impossible to get a good education. Yes, it does happen, but one can avoid such behavior quite easily. I’ve managed to survive 11 years in the OUSD without getting sexually harassed and I’m happy with the education I’ve received. If you hang out with the right crowd and take the right classes you shouldn’t have a problem.

    And its not just OUSD schools that have this problem. There will be bullying at any high school you go to.

  • Catherine

    Montera is trying to get an upper hand on the bullying – rather than use the loaded word “bully” the principal uses the term intimidation. When a person intentionally walks in the hallway in such a way that they either fully block the path of another it is intimidation and is not tolerated.

    A couple of other things – no underpants can show – it’s a form of sexual intimidation. One parent on this blog was angry that her Montera son was suspended for “playing around” that resulted in another student getting shoved into a pole and getting a bloody nose. That type of horse play is intimidation.

    There’s a lot more learning going on at Montera now that the bullying or intimidation is stopped. I do not agree very often with Nextset, but the majority of middle and high schools have ceased to be a place of education and a “housing for dollars.” I ocassionally have coffee with a Skyline teacher. He loves many of his students, but has been repremanded on several ocassions this year for giving referrals for bullying. The administration does not want to deal with the problems or the students who create the problems.

    Perhaps if these administrators followed Mr. Mesfun’s lead at what he has been able to accomplish at Montera, they would find that while in the very short run they lose money, but in the long run they gain money and students who are ready to learn.

    A note to Katy: I have just heard from two different school personnel one at a “hills” elementary school and another at a “hills” high school that there was a bulletin by the district that there are to be no more suspensions unless the student is causing “grave danger to school property or other students.”

  • Mom&Employee in OUSD

    What Catherine says about the bulletin is true. The administration downtown is not interested in the education of children any more. Their “calling” is to run a business that brings in the money! It doesn’t matter what is happening at any school site as long as their hot little or big bodies are warming seats and bringing in the money. If you look at reports comparing suspensions for the last 3 years you will find less suspensions thus making it look as if OUSD is doing something right. The rates are lower because the school administrators are being told to keep students at school no matter what. The school I work for regularly has students in the office serving “in house suspensions”. In reality, the students do not see it as punishment. They see it as a way of getting out of classes and being “baby sat” by the office personnel. I have seen as many as 5 students at a time in our office. The principal is busy doing other jobs and the students are left with the personnel in the office interfering with their work. A lot of times these students end up getting into yet another altercation making things start a vicious circle.

  • Nextset

    So it seems that the school administration is threatening school staff who attempt to protect their students by taking action against disruptive kids. OUSD reprimands anyone who suspends distruptive students. Well, fight fire with fire.

    School staff should call police as often as needed (as possible). Let the administration try to cover that up. Write memos to administration that their professional judgement to suspend X was blocked by named aministrators, making it clear that copies of the memo are going into the teacher’s home files.

    Two sides can write memos. Write memos and Emails back about discipline cases and CC as many people as possible – other teachers, union reps, etc. Collect these documents to show in the future that certained named administrators are keeping the campus in chaos by refusing to get control of dangerous and disruptive kids. They will come in handy one day.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I’m old school and we had far less of a problem (it still existed) because adults felt more empowered to intervene and most kids felt more able to go to the adults for help. To a point, kids enable the behavior because they don’t want to “punk” out. If our students felt empowered and not “punkish” to address this with adults, this would decrease.

    By the way, the same goes for adults regarding bullying and harassment. Kids are not the only ones doing this or failing to quell it.

  • Cranky teacher

    “We didn’t start the fire…”

    Bullying happens everywhere. In poor schools it tends to be more physical, in rich schools more social, but it can be argued that the latter can sting even harder — just ask the kids at Columbine.

    This is one of those issues that will never go away — you have to have a schoolwide committment to deal with it every day and make hard decisions.

    For those who are not in the schools, try to find a way to spend more time there. It is educational. What teachers see is kids “having fun” all the time, and 99% of it IS innocent release of energy after an hour or hours of sitting in a classroom.

    I am actually suprised at the four schools I have taught in over the past 3 years how carefully respectful the students are of the bodies of those not in their set. Most of the sexual harassment is within social and racial cliques where kids have to keep setting their own boundaries with peers they may have known for years.

    The worst bullying I see is of the verbal kind — especially the use of the word “fag” to describe anybody who is doing too well in school or is too nice to the teacher! Another favorite is to make fun of kids’ accents.

    Suspensions are not effective. Sure, you get rid of the kid for a few days, but they *rarely* come back “reformed.” Expulsions are sometimes a guilty relief … but for every knucklehead we get rid of, we get one from another school who is now falling further behind.

    The “literature” is pretty clear: The only way to deal with a large knucklehead problem is a schoolwide or districtwide shift in campus culture, better lesson planning, and a lot of firm but kind adult interaction with the kids. And kids have to be successful at challenging work. We actually know what works now. But implementing it is very hard, especially in a top-down system starved of resources.

  • Cranky teacher
  • Steven Weinberg

    I read the article, but the API statistics on the state website do not support the thesis that a uniquely successful program was destroyed and the gains were lost. The school made 66 points of API gain in 2002-2003, right after the principal arrived, and then +25, +21, and +21 again (solid gains, but not “near triple digit” as the author says, and then +15 in the first year of the new principal. While it sounds like the principal was treated unfairly, no one at the school sounds as pessimistic as the consultants who lost their jobs.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Cranky Teacher, I read the article you suggested before I read your previous posting which I agree with completely.

  • Catherine

    At the particular school listed above a 5th grade girl slapped another girl. My daughter saw it. Nothing happened to the “hitter” other than the principal talked to her and gave her another chance. At this same school, three 5th grade girls run what chould reasonably be called the “mean girl trio.” They bump other girls on purpose, stand around and point and laugh at others, gossip about how other kids dress, play, talk, what their parents drive, etc.

    The principal of the school says that she cannot suspend the girl because of the district memo, my daughter feels less safe, it just goes on.

    I’m glad my daughter will be out of the school next year – but I do have to say that as a parent I am tempted to report future acts of violence of kids on kids to the School, District, then OPD.

  • cranky teacher

    Steven: I was not there, but I find the story more convincing than API scores … even though in this case, the VERY STEADY rise in scores does speak to something powerful happening. To have a significant rise in API five years in a row is impressive.

    However, there are MANY MANY other ways to see improvement in a school than API scores — discipline, staff morale, parent satisfaction, college entrance, college completion, etc. And API scores can be manipulated if the school wants to emphasize them.

    That the scores continued under the new principal for the first year is hardly suprising. Besides, the story makes clear the new principal is not a monster, but is more traditional and top-down, as the district wanted.

    Finally, it is not the principal of the school we should be worried about, but the school which was benefitting from the program in place. This kind of turnover based on district politics is extremely damaging. Stability is a luxury most “urban” schools never experience.

    Catherine: It sounds like the principal is making excuses — passing the buck. “Oh, my hands are tied by the evil district!” What crap.

  • Public School Advocate

    I think we need to ask ourselves, when someone is injured, is it always “bullying”? Could it be a horrible but isolated incident, or a bad accident? I don’t understand why, solely on the basis of one angry, upset parent’s story, given to the press, a school community is believed to be full of bullies.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s important to talk about bullying, but I also think it’s really important to be clear about definitions. I mean, kids are physical with each other, certainly at recess and after school, and accidents do happen. Even, very unfortunately, accidents that land kids in the hospital. And there are bullies and bullying incidents. But let’s be really clear what we’re talking about before we start labeling children and entire school communities.

    Katie, on a related note, has the police report re: Cataldo been made public? I think it would be very valuable for the press to obtain it, so that we can all see what OPD was able to find out after interviewing lots of people at the school and in the community, including at least a couple of adult eye witnesses.

    Thanks for listening,

  • Katy Murphy

    I checked late last week, and the investigation was still not complete, according to the OUSD spokesman. I’ll ask again today.

  • Unclear on the concept

    Dear Nextset,
    You say “If a parent can do no better for their child that (sic) OUSD…”
    If you’d like to contribute to a fund to send my kids to private school, I’d be happy to take your donation.
    What do you know about any of the parents, their children, or their education that you so glibly comment on?

  • Nextset

    Unclear: Poorer relations just got their kids out of OUSD. The stats of OUSD speak for themselves, but my concerns come from dealing with the products of OUSD schools for nearly 40 years.

    They products (generally) can’t read, can’t write, have no critical thinking skills and have little training on how to behave due to an exaggerated sense of self worth. They are impaired in ability to make their way in society and I believe the deficits are unreasonable.

    And you don’t have to send your kid to a private school, you only have to move to a better public school district. Or homeschool I suppose, your problem, not mine.

  • Sue

    Hello Unclear,

    I get very annoyed with Nextset, too, slamming my family and claiming that my kids aren’t getting an education because we’re sending them to OUSD schools.

    I’ve raised my objections pretty pointedly in the past, and concluded that it’s a waste of my time and energy to provide facts and anecdotes that contradict those offensive statements.

    Nextset apparently likes to offend, and doesn’t seem to be capable of reading and understanding anything that doesn’t support his preconceived ideas. His world is as he sees it, and our experiences are invalid because they don’t match his.

    So now, when I see those “no decent family” or “parent can do no better” type of comments, I just consider the source. He *thinks* he’s part of a civilized culture, but Nextset just doesn’t know any better. Generalizations and stereotypes are all we can expect from him.

  • Unclear on the Concept

    That’s right, Nextset. My problem, not yours. All you do is post on blogs. Not even anything constructive, either.

  • Public School Advocate

    I don’t think that OUSD will be able to publicly release any information on their internal investigation. Mr. Cataldo filed a lawsuit against OUSD the same day his story broke in the newspapers. With the lawsuit pending, OUSD can’t comment publicly. Oakland Police Department did their own investigation, and I believe they were given access to the OUSD internal report. OPD has not been sued; they should be able to release their findings, but I don’t know if they will without some pressure from the press. Thanks for your help.

  • Nextset

    Well, all, we’ll just wait another year and see how the APIs are going…. Is there a correlation with API and bullying – or dirty bathrooms, I believe there is.

    If I’m irritating you could it be because you aren’t proud of OUSD and are uncomfortable when I diss the organization? Can you improve “your” schools?

    As far as Sue’s comment on slamming her family – Sue I get your point, I should be more circumspect. Nothing I may have said has any real relation to actual families – this is public commentary about education policy. An actual family has dynamics that I sure couldn’t hope to understand or even know. I’m not privy to all that. Any rhetoric I use about what should or should not be is intended to speak of a hypothetical people. I’ll try to qualify my statements more in the future.

  • Nextset

    Sue: Generalizations? That’s what policy is about. OUSD is generally screwing it’s kids into the ground as shown by their bad scores. OUSD should generally try to do a better job, generally support their staff, and generally track the kids so more can be accomplished. Generally OUSD should have better discipline in their schools.

    This is a policy blog. We can’t closely debate individuals.

  • cranky teacher

    “If a parent can do no better for their child that (sic) OUSD”

    Nextset, are you really so dense as to claim no child can get a decent education in any Oakland school, at least as good as in, say, Berkeley?

    I wonder about the sample you’re seeing. There are so many bright and outstanding students and teachers in this district.

    Generalize all you want, but stop making ABSOLUTE statements. They just make you look silly.

    Several of my Oakland relatives are kicking butt as young lawyers and doctors.

  • Sue

    The generalizations I was referring to are the ones that you make consistently about “families in OUSD”. I’m a member of a family in OUSD, and so are many of the other people posting here. Your generalizations don’t describe my family, they insult us.

    I haven’t seen anyone on this blog getting their feathers ruffled over policy generalizations – family generalizations, yes.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: I really didn’t see OUSD students at Law School – or in any significant number at Berkeley for that matter. I suppose they were there. All I noticed was a flood of Southern CA and preppy northern CA people. Oh, and 8 out of 10 blacks left UC Berkeley without graduating (1970’s) – don’t know the current rates.

    Yes OUSD has students that finish professional school. But OUSD doesn’t have a Lowell High. They are the (relatively) rich… and their kids tend to make it to the top. What I don’t see in any number is OUSD producing social mobility for the proles. I believe there are brights in OUSD’s constituency where a good secondary school whould make the difference in ability to survive competition among CA’s elite 19 year olds in college – I want them to have a sure path of the sort that San Francisco Prole children get with Lowell. Tell me about a OUSD school that does what Lowell does, provides the training Lowell does for Prole kids who can get into Berkeley or Stanford.

    Sue: Insult you? Well at least we are talking. Nobody will talk to you & yours when the competition starts in earnest. Maybe if your school district performed better you wouldn’t feel so insulted. Your products are not sought after as employees… I believe that’s not true of SFUSD’s Lowell graduates.

    You protest too much if you want me to believe you are so personally wounded by any rant (of a perfect stranger on a blog) about OUSD not doing enough to prepare it’s students to do well after OUSD classes end. Even I don’t believe you actually take me seriously in reference to your own family or it’s progress.

    It’s not all about you. Individuals may navigate OUSD and get what they need and move on. But when the achievement stats are as low as they are, a lot of working class people are getting hurt by their time there. Educational policy isn’t about the rich, the gifted… It’s about the kids of the single mothers and the low income that finish OUSD stuck as single mothers and low income people. The public school is to promote social mobility in this society and the needs of the proletariat should dominate, not the needs of the lesser number of the gifted. OUSD should be producing more than they are.

    And that includes the counseling and voc ed placement services to get these kids into voc and tech jobs or anything else that can keep them working for a career, and not prematurely pregnant or in jail.

  • Sue

    Nextset said:
    “Sue: Insult you? Well at least we are talking. Nobody will talk to you & yours when the competition starts in earnest. Maybe if your school district performed better you wouldn’t feel so insulted. Your products are not sought after as employees… ”

    I’d love to know where you got your crystal ball? How else could you know my children’s future in such detail? I know a professional psychic (or two), and they wouldn’t be making these sorts of specific, detailed predictions. Obviously, your gifts greatly exceed theirs, so why don’t you have a national television show or psychic hotline?

  • Sue

    Needs of the gifted? I know I’ve mentioned once or twice (or 10-20 times) that my older son has autism. When did his disability transform into a gift?

    Yes, younger son has beedn identified as gifted – I don’t really need to go back and quote posts from other parents about the lack of challenge for their gifted child, or repeat how my family suppliments what little OUSD does for GATE students, do I?

    If you want to say “ABC are the problems”, then say that. But stop condemning the other 23 letters of the alphabet along with ABC. As and “S”, I don’t appreciate being told that I have the same problems as ABC. And I think Cranky Teacher and Unclear on the concept are saying they don’t like that treatment either.

    Yes, OUSD has problems, and some groups of students have worse problems than others. I wouldn’t say that the three student guest-bloggers (an example that has nothing to do with my children) have those same problems. But you would, and you have with your generalities.

  • Realist

    Nextset: regarding your query “Tell me about a OUSD school that does what Lowell does, provides the training Lowell does for Prole kids who can get into Berkeley or Stanford”.

    one of those OUSD schools is Oakland Tech, specifically its 25 year old Paideia program and its academies. check out the college acceptances for the Paideia graduates over the last two years at:


    these college acceptances rival most of the private schools in the east bay that i’m familiar with. these kids are truly impressive and very highly sought after.

    i think i’ve invited you before to stop by and “check it out”. at a minimum, stop by the engineering academy and notice all the awards the students have won year after year after year at the Sacramento State Fair. this is in large part to the fabulous teachers and supportive families that are a part of the high school community.

    you see, there’s hope and not all is lost in OUSD.

  • Nextset

    Realist: It appears that 41 students in the 2007 and 2008 school years made it into college with good backups also. I hope they were actually able to attend. Now how many students were in each graduating class? I wish all the OUSD High Schools published data on their websites about the fate of their graduating classes.

    Reminds me of the term “Discharge Planning”… I would hope the schools would hand all the students calendars in September and remind them weekly of the countdown to age 18/end of school – and having to start the rest of their life – and provide referrals to social workers/counselors to come up with options for them.

    Maybe they do? Anybody have any first hand experience with this?

  • Realist

    Nextset, the data you looked at only applies to Paideia students, not all students at Tech. that is why you’re only seeing 40 some kids listed. there are many more students that will be attending college in the fall, that data isn’t provided at the site i shared with you.

    each year, OUSD sends out info on college grads and where they will be attending school. i haven’t seen the list for 2008 yet, but if you’re interested, here is the link for 2007:


  • Steven Weinberg

    Cranky, Your points are all well taken. Administrative stability is important. The schools I know have not had a problem with downtown removing their administrators, but they have had good people decide to leave because of the unbelievable demands placed on urban principals and the lack of respect they sometimes feel from downtown.

  • Sharon

    Re: the accuracy of the above mentioned OUSD document – College-Bound Oakland Graduates.

    As far as I know, this document has been produced by OUSD for the past two years. This type of publicity about the successes of OUSD students is extremely important. Unfortunately, the accuracy of the information in these last two brochures is questionable to me.

    I know for certain that the 2006 version had many errors for Skyline High School; this was my daughter’s graduating class. For instance, one of her friends with plans to go to a private college in Oregon was listed as heading for Laney in the fall. My daughter counted at least 12 similar mistakes. It was very disappointing for the kids to read this misinformation.

    In addition, a former Oakland Tech AP told me that students that year wrote whatever they pleased on the inquiry form. She did not believe the information was then verified.

    Skyline’s information for 2007 was also incomplete. Several students heading for good colleges were not included in the OUSD brochure.

    I presume these errors are because of insufficient notice to counselors, heavy workloads, and other factors that prevent people from being thorough, but the information needs to be correct (I hope this is being read by central office people). I also would prefer to see a list of the college acceptances of students at each school, rather than specific student destinations. This would paint a more complimentary picture for the schools by revealing the potential of that outgoing class and would also not infringe on student privacy.

  • Nextset

    Sue: It’s not about you, it’s certainly not about your kids – I really don’t care.

    I’m here to discuss policy pros and cons. Not you. Don’t expect that from me. If you take any of this personally you are going to be way too fretful and hyper. Deal with it.

  • Sue

    Then why was the paragraph I quoted addressed to me?

  • Nextset

    Sue: I’m not sure I understand that point. Perhaps we should meet again on another thread. Regrets on any confusion.

  • Sue

    It wasn’t a point it was a question.

  • Diamond Broussard

    in suburban more wealthy schools the bullying is not also jsut more verbal but in many circumstances more hurtful. We read about these situations all the time in newspapers in which a child in a suburban school district commits suicide due to bullying most often verbal and not physical. How often do you read about students in OUSD committing sucide? Of course, fighting is not the solution but often times and in my own experience it solves the problem. There hasn’t been one time in which i’ve seen that someone who was in a fight was ever messed with again after beating the kid up. That’s all I’m saying.