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Palo Alto student survey mostly positive

Original post made on Mar 3, 2009

The great majority of high school students don't use drugs or alcohol and more than two-thirds of middle school students aren't bullied, a survey of more than 5,000 Palo Alto students taken last fall shows.


Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, March 2, 2009, 10:37 PM

Comments (36)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

If this can be believed, there are a few comments that should be made.

Do middle schoolers all think of bullying as the same thing, or is there a guideline in the survey as to what constitutes bullying?

Do students who say they drink a few times each month differentiate between drinking with friends away from home, or drinking with family - a glass of wine with a meal or a beer with Dad while watching sport? Kids drinking on their own is much more worrying than parents teaching responsible drinking habits to their older teens before they go away to college.


Posted by PalyAlum
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 3, 2009 at 10:17 am

How did we lose Sharon Ofek to JLS? What a shame!

Bullying is an issue because there are too many working/overvolunteering parents who ignore/disrespect their children these days or allow siblings to bully other siblings. So their children take out their anger on other children because they are not happy at home.

Bullying was so rare when I grew up here in the late 70s - early 80s. Yes, there were a couple of target kids, but otherwise there was no bullying. Even in middle school (where girls get really crazy these days) there wasn't any of the bullying and pettiness that starts with girls in elementary school.

As I always say, look at the parents and their children are their results. The great, nurturing parents who adore their kids have great kids. The parents who would rather bury themselves in their careers or overvolunteer and have their children be in the next room instead of spending time with them have the unhappy children.


Posted by kathy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2009 at 10:39 am

If 30% of kids have been on the receiving end of bullying, almost all kids have experienced, witnessed or participated in bullying. While victimization is awful, the scars can be very damaging for kids who witness but remain silent. This is a very serious problem leading to many destructive behaviors. It may be at the root of the substance abuse problem in high school. Both must be dealt with, but if we have to choose between addressing bullying or substance abuse, let's deal with bullying NOW!


Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2009 at 10:49 am

There is more alcohol and definitely more drug use than that, particularly pot. A few years ago acid was being used at Paly, as well as E, and other drugs used by the girls to control weight.

Teens are a paranoid lot, many believe that parents and school officials can somehow track the answers back to the individual. Then take into consideration those that didn't participate in the study and the picture changes.

Middle school bullying is a sad fact of life, but I do know that in high school, at Paly at least, a lot of kids have come sufficiently into their own that they stand up for others being teased. I think that's encouraging and pretty cool!


Posted by Simon
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2009 at 10:50 am

I hope JLS assistant principal Sharon Ofek isn’t as blasé sounding about bullying as this article makes her sound.

A full third of Palo Alto’s middle school children report being bullied in the last year – that’s staggering.

Trying to put a positive spin on the figures (“69 percent of the students had not been bullied in the last year, Sharon Ofek, JLS assistant principal, said”) doesn’t wash out the stain, I’m afraid. Nor does Ofek’s defense that it’s not even worse: “"Most people think it is happening more than it is," she added.”

Both quotes give the impression that the district is in denial-mode and really doesn’t want to deal with the issue. But how can a school hope to teach effectively with one third of it’s students being harassed and some other large percentage doing the harassing. Yuck!

Regardless of how such a large number of its children came to be bullies (sure, PalyAlum, parents have plenty of responsibility there) a school district can either lead on this or throw its hands up and say there’s nothing to be done. But even if it’s dealing with more children than ever raised to think bullying is acceptable, what’s the District supposed to do? Nothing? You really think that, PalAlum? I can’t believe you do.

In the face of these appalling numbers, and whether parents these days are any more supportive of social cruelty than in years past or not, I’d expect the schools to come down load and hard against bullying at school. From the quoted response to this survey, I really worry that this isn’t happening.

"Our students, for the most part, know what they should say, what they should do and how to behave," Ofek is quoted as saying. Well great. But so what? That’s essentially saying that the bullies know they are bullies and bullied know they are being picked on. A huge proportion of middle schoolers, then, are knowingly doing something they know is wrong. And what, exactly, is the district doing about it? Not a whole lot, it seems.

“Ofek said she was concerned that students who witness bullying may feel less safe while at school,” reports the Weekly. Right, and the third of kids who’ve been actual victims? What about their safety?

These figures are shocking and shameful. It is the district’s obligation to provide a safe learning environment for the children it educates. Statements like those attributed to Sharon Ofek suggest that the district has a long way to go before our children can feel safe in middle school.


Posted by PalyAlum
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 3, 2009 at 11:13 am

Simon,

No, I do not think PAUSD should throw up their arms in defeat and I applaud them for their attention to this.

I think parents need to snap out of it and start paying attention to their offspring. Why did they have them in the first place if they don't enjoy them? So their children can take care of them when they are seniors? The children will have no will to tend to parents who didn't tend to them.

Children always want parent approval, despite what they say. Parents need to just start spending some time with their kids, whether it is simply playing vids with them, talking to them about other than academics, or taking them to do something fun together such as Laserquest, gokarting, iFly, etc.

Don't necessarily be a friend instead of a parent, but don't just be the person nagging the child to do this or that or telling them they aren't doing anything right. Praising goes so far with children AND adults. If people feel good about themselves, they will be happier and treat others well.

Bottom line is, respect and be kind to your children and they will respect and be kind back.


Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2009 at 11:16 am

In my experience, Jordan does an excellent job in dealing with bullying issues. Or, it did. Hope it still does. Do the schools still have those school resource police officers? Zero tolerance on bullying is the only way to go.


Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 3, 2009 at 11:55 am

I agree with the comments that argue that it's shocking and disturbing that 30% of children in middle school have been bullied! That seems like a huge number to me. And while I agree that parents can influence such things by maintaining close relationships with their kids and giving them an alternative to exclusively bonding with (and being influenced by) their peers, I also think the adults at school, who care for our kids for many hours each week, need to play a stronger role. At Ohlone, teachers spoke with kids in class about their experiences on the playground and discussed conflict resolution, empathy, and mutual respect. I think there ought to be a place for that in upper grades as well. And teachers, administrators, coaches, etc. ought to be on the lookout for bullying behavior and make themselves truly available for reports by the kids. And then they need to act! Acting punitively would, I believe, be a mistake, but talking with bullies about why they're doing what they're doing and what they could do instead can be effective. Bringing the parents in for repeat offenses and having them talk with the parents of the bullied kids seems like a good next step.

Also, I'm wondering: in addition to the possibility that some kids are underreporting their drinking and drug use, what about the 20% that didn't complete the survey? It seems at least plausible that a larger portion of that group drink or use drugs frequently and didn't report for that very reason. Of course we can't know that for sure, but I think it's something to consider as the district evaluates its response.


Posted by Simon
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2009 at 12:00 pm

PalyAlum -- you say "No, I do not think PAUSD should throw up their arms in defeat and I applaud them for their attention to this." My point is that their attention -- as reported here -- doesn't sound either urgent or of a caliber to do anything about an appalling situation. Honestly, based on Sharon Ofek's comments, what is there to applaud?

YSK -- maybe Jordan did go a good job once upon a time. But the figures quoted here, I'd argue, suggest that right now the district as a whole is doing a terrible job.

I agree with you that zero tolerance is the only way to go. My worry is that there's every evidence -- from this or from the District's unwillingness to even draft a policy on cyber-bullying -- that the attitude of our school administrators towards bullying is, frankly, one of tolerance.


Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

The cyber bullying question is an interesting one. This District picks and chooses their battles depending upon the aggressor, the agressee, and the ability of the parents on each side to take the matter to an uncomfortable level. Meaning, what could it cost the District?

If the kid is of a lower income bracket the SOP of the District is to say what happens off campus is out of our hands. Higher income bracket kids and parents get more attention, as it goes with just about everything.

There ARE (or were) some administrators who were the exception, they intuitively got the 'big' picture, but PC pandering and the threat of legal action by well heeled parents who are in denial of their childs bad behavior either shut them down or caused them to leave this District for another that allows more autonomy when making disciplinarian decisions.

I also have issues with the fact the school district doesn't disable social networking sites on the school computers. At school when you have that on the spot gang mentality going on it's easy to get caught up and write stupid things online. Of course with Facebook and MySpace available on PDA's now, compiled with kids being able to convince their parents that online access 24/7 is a MUST, it makes it even easier! I can't think of one good reason a kid needs a PDA in school, it is really just a distraction and it increases a students ability to cheat AND bully.


Posted by carrie manley
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2009 at 12:54 pm

The headline of this news story says the news is mostly positive, but learning that 30 percent of our middle school students say they have been bullied is, to me at least, very troubling. What that statistic says to me is that it¡¯s likely a much higher percentage has experienced bullying, as either a victim, a perpetrator or as a by-stander. This survey gives all of us a greater opportunity to talk to our own children and learn more about this important issue, one that impacts many children every day.

I also think as a community, we need to thank Karin Bloom, the project director of the the Palo Alto Drug and Alcohol Community Collaborative, as well as the more than two dozen volunteers and professionals who have devoted a great amount of time, effort and expertise to this potentially life-saving cause, including administrators from PAUSD, the Red Cross, the Palo Alto Police Department, Stanford Medical Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the City of Palo Alto, Adolescent Counciling Services, the Palo Alto Libraries, our PTAs and more. With this survey, Ms. Bloom, PAMF¡¯s Becky Beacom, JLS¡¯s Sharon Ofek and many others, have done¡ªand continue to do¡ªa great public service for all our children. Their important findings, and the direct messages from our students--make it clear that as parents and as a community, we need to teach lessons of empathy early and often.

To that end, here are some other resources to help parents and educators:


¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ
The Palo Alto Premier: ¡°Oskar and the Big Bully Battle!¡±
All parents and kids are welcome to attend this free theatrical debut, brought to you by PAUSD and TheatreWorks, Monday, March 16, 2009, 6pm-7:45pm
Nixon Elementary School Theatre¡ªAll PAUSD Families Welcome!
1711 Stanford Avenue, Palo Alto
Live Spanish Translation
6:00pm-6:30pm: Community Potluck dinner, all welcome!
(Please bring something, if it¡¯s easy for youJ!)
6:30pm-7:15pm: ¡°Oskar and the Big Bully Battle!¡± Palo Alto Premier!
7:15pm-7:45: Interactive games and activities with the Cast!

Suited for adults and kids from Young Fives through sixth grade, this humorous and inventive tale is the result of a unique Arts and Education partnership between the Palo Alto Unified School District and TheatreWorks. Thanks to a state grant, PAUSD school administrators commissioned this new play, and directly participated in its development, in close collaboration with TheatreWorks.
This Spring, many Palo Alto elementary students will see this entertaining and informative production at school assemblies throughout Palo Alto. This free family preview performance will provide parents and kids some important life lessons about the right things to do when someone gets bullied, an issue that, at some point, impacts every child. Following the 40-minute play, you and your kids are invited to stay for some fun, interactive role-playing activities, and conversation with the cast!

This March 16 performance launches PAUSD¡¯s 4th annual ¡°Not In Our Schools¡± program, a month-long community awareness campaign to stop all forms of intolerance and hatred. Special events include the world premier of ¡°Not In Our School¡ªPalo Alto¡± April 1, 2009 This professional documentary featuring Palo Alto students committed to positive social change.
For more information, please visit www.info.paloaltopta.org
¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñPalo Alto Community Collaborative Follow-up: ¡°Hearing From Our Teens: Student Attitudes & Experiences Regarding Alcohol, Marijuana, and Bullying¡±
Follow-up meeting on the middle school bullying survey results and the high school alcohol and drug use survey results will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, March 16, at the Palo Alto Unified School District offices at 25 Churchill Ave. Here¡¯s your chance to learn more about the compelling, recent survey results from students at Palo Alto and Gunn High Schools and Jordan, Terman and JLS Middle Schools. More than 5,000 of own Palo Alto middle school and high school students participated in this wide-ranging ¡°social norms¡± survey earlier this school year, covering such important health issues as alcohol, marijuana and bullying. Findings include: 30% of our PAUSD middle school students say they have been bullied. Read the complete results of the Palo Alto Drug and Alcohol Community Collaborative survey at www.PADACC.org Sponsored by the Palo Alto Drug and Alcohol Community Collaborative. Event details at www.info.paloaltopta.org
¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ
¡°BREAKING THE CYCLE OF BULLYING¡±
Palo Alto PTA Council Series: All parents, teachers & community welcome!
FREE & open to all PAUSD parents, teachers, & the community
►How is bullying different from typical disagreements between siblings or peers?
►How does bullying or what some call ¡°social cruelty¡± have a potentially lasting impact on the bully, the bullied and the bystander
► How we can, as parents and teachers, help create inclusive, safe environments for all children?
Palo Alto¡¯s non-profit agency ¡°Parents Place¡± answers your questions and presents the latest research on bullying¡ªan issue that, at some point, impacts every child. Pick date/location easiest for you:
Middle School Program: 4/7/09 JLS, A primer on bullying in Middle School, in all its forms, including Cyberbullying. (Spanish Translation Provided)
Elementary School Program: Ohlone 3/4/09 (Mandarin Translation Provided) ¡ñ El Carmelo 4/16/09 (Spanish Translation Provided ¡ñ Duveneck 4/28/09 (Spanish Translation Provided) ¡ñ Juana Briones 5/6/09
Free On-Site Child Care at all schools ¡ñ All programs run 7pm-8:30pm
Check www.info.paloalotpta.org for event details
¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ
¡°MIDDLE SCHOOL: HOW IS MY CHILD REALLY DOING?"
Palo Alto PTA Council Program, open to everyone.
Learn about typical adolescent behaviors, plus new ways and opportunities for you to connect meaningfully with your children during this rapidly changing time. Also learn the warning signs of emotional/mental distress (depression, anxiety, self-harming, bullying) that all parents need to know. This do-not-miss parent education program will be lead by a panel of our PAUSD Middle School Counselors and mental health professionals from Adolescent Counseling Services
Same program, two convenient dates and locations, just pick the one easiest for you and your family:
Wednesday, March 18, 2009, JLS Middle School, 7pm-8:30pm
Wednesday, April 15, 2009, Terman Middle School, April 15, 2000. 7pm-8:30pm
Parents of Jordan, Terman, and JLS students welcome at both locations. Also parents of current 5th graders at our 12 PAUSD elementary schools are also encouraged to attend, along with any interested community members, educators, and other PAUSD parents.
Live Spanish Translation Provided ¡ñ Free On-Site Childcare both locations
Call Carrie Manley at (650) 289-6656 to reserve childcare.
www.info.paloalotpta.org for directions and more event details.
¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ
¡°GIRLS AND CONFLICT"
Concerned about bullying issues, including Cyber-Bullying? Here¡¯s an important resource for you and your family: Local cable presentation featuring best-selling author/educator Rachel Simmons

For parents of girls in K-12 & beyond, and for girls age 10 & up. Rachel Simmons, founder of Girls Leadership Institute & author of Odd Girl Out: the Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, spoke Jan 8th in Los Altos to a capacity crowd. Calling the Internet the new "bathroom wall" where girls can vent aggression anonymously, she urged parents to give children explicit guidelines on what is OK & not OK to say online.
Simmons also discussed what all parents and schools need to do to help any girl being bullied.
As a public service, the Palo Alto PTA Council arranged to have Simmons¡¯ full presentation video-taped for broadcasting on the Palo Alto Media Center¡¯s local cable access channel. PTA organizers encourage parents to watch the presentation with their daughters. Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Atherton cable subscribers may view the program on Channel 28 at 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through February. If you don¡¯t have cable TV, you can watch this presentation by going to www.communitymediacenter.net for a live streaming presentation on-line at scheduled times. Our thanks to PTA Council Parent Education volunteers Carol and Andrew Mellows for video-taping this program, as well as the Palo Alto Media Center, and the event sponsors, PTAs throughout Mountain View and Los Altos!

¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ¡ñ
Finally, I think it¡¯s important to be clear on what bullying is, face-to-face or on-line. It¡¯s not your typical disagreement or conflict between siblings or friends. As one 5th grader once said, ¡°It happens all the time, but the grown-ups just don¡¯t see it.¡± So what is it, that we, the adults, don¡¯t always see?

Researchers tell us bullying incidents have three consistant components:
¡ñImbalance of power
¡ñIntent to harm (physically or emotionally)
¡ñThe implicit or explicit threat of further aggression

Research also shows physical bullying accounts for less than one-third of all bullying incidents. Verbal social cruelty accounts for 70% of all reported cases. What is know as ¡°relational bullying,¡± is often the most difficult to detect by the casual, outside observer; it is the systematic, and deliberate ignoring, isolating, excluding and shunning of a person. Though perhaps not so immediately apparent as a physical assault, the accumulative impact of truly ignoring another person¡¯s existence, can be powerfully devastating in its own way. One man, who had been shunned for many years as a child, described his resulting emotional pain as ¡°death by a thousand cuts.¡±

It¡¯s clear some children are more prone to being bullied; the child who is not so emotionally resilient may become a satisfying target for the child who enjoys the feeling of power that comes with bullying. But as adults we need to deeply understand that all children, no matter what their innate temperament or vulnerability, need and deserve our respect¡ªand the respect of their peers.

It is important for children to learn how to recognize bullying early on and they need to learn how to speak up, on behalf of the victim. A school-based comprehensive anti-bullying program can provide teachers and parents the tools, training and specific curriculum and protocol needed to create a safe, caring community for all children at all grade levels. Children who are identified as having bullied an other child, are not punished. They are required to make amends, not with just a quick ¡°I¡¯m sorry.¡± Instead, they have to do something positive (such as write a letter of apology or read a book to children in a younger class). This approach encourages the child who bullies to learn more positive social skills and empathy. Reseach shows the earlier these lessons in caring begin, the better. These are lessons, too, that parents can teach their children every day. For example, when something unkind is said, you can ask your child, ¡°does that comment make you feel ¡®bigger¡¯ inside, or ¡®smaller¡¯?¡± As well as the basic lesson of the Golden Rule: ¡°How would that feel if someone said that to you?¡±

Thanks to the Palo Alto Weekly for covering last night¡¯s meeting, and again, big thanks to everyone involved in the Palo Alto Drug and Alcohol Community Collaborative¡­ and to the more than 5,000 students who took the time to share their experiences with all of us.

For those who missed last night¡¯s event at 25 Churchill, announcing the survey results, the entire program was video-taped by PTA Council volunteers Andrew and Carol Mellows, for future viewing on our local cable access channels, with simultaneous viewing available on-line. This might be a program worth recording, reviewing, and perhaps sharing all or parts of it with your own children. The airdates have not yet been set, but once they are, you¡¯ll find the programming details at www.info.paloaltopta.org and at www.communitymediacenter.net


Posted by Simon
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Carrie -- I agree with you when you say: "A school-based comprehensive anti-bullying program can provide teachers and parents the tools, training and specific curriculum and protocol needed to create a safe, caring community for all children at all grade levels."

But that begs the question: given that children can’t learn in an environment in which they feel unsafe, why isn't every school in the PAUSD required to have such a comprehensive anti-bullying policy? Maybe they are – in which case the question should be: at least at the middle school level, why are the anti-bullying programs currently in place failing so abysmally?

We clearly have a lot of people in our district who care about this -- and it's right that we thank them for their efforts as you did in your post. But we also seem to have a severe lack of interest in getting tough on bullies among the senior leadership at the middle and high school and at the district level, too.

Why were Sharon Ofek's comments so anodyne, for example, in the face of these appalling survey figures? And where is the DISTRICT-wide statement requiring that all school have zero-tolerance for bullying and promising to work with the community to create a safe, caring school experience for all children at all grade levels? I just don't see it.

I do see a lot of great work being done in the elementary schools and then I see a frightening lack of urgency in the face of a shockingly high incidence of bullying at the higher grades.

Carrie, I agree with you that "as parents and as a community, we need to teach lessons of empathy early and often." But we also need to feel that the PAUSD is with us on this. We need strong statements from the Board and the Superintendent about bullying at all levels and a promise from them that they'll keep pressing their middle and high school principals for action until every child under their care can attend school without fear of being harassed.


Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Yikes! Anyway, want to do something positive?

Take away the PDA's (gasp, horror!) and hand them a simple cell phone.


Monitor your childs on line use (middle school especially). Make your computer is password protected so you have to sign the kid in and out. AOL has amazing parental controls, right down to access hours which can be individualized 24/7 and the kid having to request the parent input a password for them to visit certain sites. You don't have to be present to do this, you can do it by email too.

Demand your childs school block access to Social Networking websites.

Make the child shares their passwords to their email and social networking sites with you. You pay the bills, this is your right. I was able to access my kids emails and MySpace accts. right thru 18. They cared for about 5 minutes, then accepted it. Of course, it was also understood I wouldn't be checking their accounts unless given a good reason. No reason to look just to be nosy. I actually still can get into their emails, I never intruded enough and they never got up to enough to care to change their passwords. The day they turned 18 I never checked again. Legally, they were now adults, responsible for their own actions.


Of course your kid will call you a Neocon fascist, sqwak about their 'right' to privacy; it's in their job description. YOUR job description is parenting. If you had any idea of the lengths your kid will go to just to keep parents out of 'their business' you'd be amazed! They use underscores, symbols, accent marks in their Myspace I'd's. Set to private. Create multiple accounts, emails. Again, part of coming into your own, but when it gets that intense, a parent should wonder why such lengths for secrecy?


Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm

When I send my kids to school, I want to know that the school has my kids' back, that if they are bullied, that they will get help and support from the school. The JLS asst. principal's comments "69% aren't bullied" and "Most people think it is happening more than it is" means to me she is in denial and will do absolutely nothing for a bullied kid, probably telling him that he should know "what they should do and how to behave", and tell him to deal with it himself.

I can't help how some parents raise their kids, all I can do is hope that when bullying happens (to a third of the kids!), that the school will do something for the victim! [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by invloved parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2009 at 7:52 pm

This is a legally slanderous comment against Sharon Ofek - a dedicated and proactive advocate for victims of all types of inappropriate behavior whether criminal or not. Obviously this "parent" hasn't even taken the time to attend the presentation let alone get to know his/her own child's assistant principal. The comments in this article are just one writer's synopsis of a 90 minute presentation, without regard to Ms. Sharon Ofek's personal opinions. She merely reported the data. I believe an apology and retraction from all you critics out there is appropriate NOW.


Posted by agree with involved parent
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Involved Parent: thank you, you are right on. Just stating the facts.


Posted by thankful parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

I agree with this last comment - Ms. Ofek has helped my family on a very deep and profound level with the utmost of professionalism, sensitivity to all parties concerned, and ethics. I have no doubt that bullying is not tolerated under her command!


Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Wow! Demand unreasonable things much? These are comments, opinions, not absolutes. You can disagree, but demand an apology? Based on what? You think your take is correct, these people think theirs is.

Always be leery of the Thought Police. Ms.Ofek is free to respond either on this board or to the paper directly. I didn't comment about her, didn't see her as part of the problem, but people have the right to their opinion, even if it differs from yours.


Posted by Involved Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:18 pm

I wish that "resident of Old Palo Alto neighborhood" would pay attention to the fact that last night's meeting was a report of results from a survey AND NOT Ms. Ofek's personal opinion. Are you getting it yet?! Ms. Ofek strives for zero bullies, along with other administrators. A personal attack is out of line - Now who's the bully??


Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:31 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Former Bullied Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I've read a lot of these comments and have decided to respond.

First off, I went to JLS for three long years and have had a lot of experience with bullying at that school and the administration's reaction to it. I was bullied many times, and the administration's reaction? To deny it, to talk about how I need to be less "sensitive" and that they were sure the bullies were "nice people."

Middle School is a rough patch for many people, and bullying is MAJOR problem. Ignoring the issue is NOT what the Assistant Principal is for. And judging by Ms. Ofek's comments, that "Most students know how to behave" and that "More people think it's happening more than it is" just seems to me, that after many people from the administration that so badly handled my years are gone, they have just been replaced with people who want to continue that same kind of "it's-not-our-problem" attitude that made my years at JLS so awful.

To "Involved Parent"- Has your child ever been bullied? Have they been flatly ignored by the administration? If so, you would also be critical of someone that seems to be, judging by the article, ignoring the problems of bullies.

What if Barack Obama stepped into Office and decided continue with de-regulation in the economy and ignoring the recession? He would be criticized for ignoring the problem. This is what is happening to Ms. Ofek now.


Posted by Parent who has seen it
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:47 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:58 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by zero tolerance
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Ms Ofek,

I have to assume you really do care. But you must be an extraordinarily poor communicator to have presented such tepid remarks to the reporter. Obviously the result has been inflammatory rather than placatory.

Next time, please START by deploring the fact that 30% have been bullied on your watch. Don't whitewash, and don't insult our intelligence by spinning the statistic in reverse. Then tell us what you are going to do about it. Does anyone know what really happens to bullies at JLS and elsewhere? I for one would truly like to hear what the administration does when a kid is repeatedly identified as a bully by peers, teachers and other adult witnesses.


Posted by truth, responsibility and kindness
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 3, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Sharon Ofek has been one of the most thoughtful and diligent PAUSD employees working consistently, over a period of 4+ years, to decrease bullying in our schools.
The number of hours she has dedicated to this mission is enormous. Her passion to end bullying in Palo Alto was felt by many at Jordan. JLS is very lucky to have her as an Assistant Principal.
It seems to me that it is far easier to blame and bully when what we really need to be doing is modeling responsible, caring respectful behaviors for our kids.
Please attend events before you comment on them.
Attacking each other on blogs wastes time. Time that could be spent working on the problem. If you want to know how to get involved in creating kinder students and schools... talk with a principal or an assistant principal. They all have programs or committees that are taking responsibility and working toward this end.


Posted by well said
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Truth, responsibility, and kindness: you've got it right. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree wholeheartedly.


Posted by parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm

I was at the meeting last night. I was surprised at the positive spin in view of the numbers. We all want to deny that "our" kids couldn't be bullies, but unfortunately, many are. All it takes is a rolling of the eyes, the "oh, I'm saving this seat for someone else" when it remains empty. Bullying has evolved since many of us were in middle school or high school. There is a power in belittling others. It is getting so much easier with the internet. It's time to be more proactive and teach our kids empathy and respect.


Posted by Growing Up
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2009 at 11:18 pm

If 70% of students are saying they're not bullied, I would say that PAUSD has made a lot of progress. Things used to be a lot worse in the 80's during my years.

Ofek worked closely with my son at Jordan. She was fair and helpful.


Posted by Former PAUSD Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2009 at 1:26 am

The bullying IS worse than it is represented here. How do I know? My kid wasn't bullied in middle or high school — so his answer to the survey might have been "no" — but that's because he was so traumatized by the bullying he received in elementary school that he has essentially avoided all contact with peers ever since. (He was a fine, happy, social kid before the bullying started in earnest in fourth grade. He's now 21, with a case of social anxiety so great that he has to live at home and go to community college instead of going away to college; we have also paying been paying big $$$ to therapists and psychiatrists for years trying to deal with this.)

PalyAlum, your assessment of the problem with the bullies' parents is incorrect. In our experience, when they were called into school to discuss their kids' actions, their attitude was one of denial that THEIR precious little darling could ever have done anything like that. They held neither themselves nor their children responsible for any of it; it must have been someone else's fault.

And Neighbor, the kind of "conflict resolution, empathy, and mutual respect" discussions that you mention going on at Ohlone were also our elementary school's answer to the bullying issue. It was presented as though every conflict or bullying incident was the result of some "misunderstanding", as though if everyone could see everyone else's point of view, the issues could be cleared up and the bullying would go away. The possibility that the bullies was just bad eggs who got off on power trips via making life hell for someone weaker and "different" was never even raised, even though that was clearly what was going on.

As long as the real causes of bullying are ignored, parents and bullies are not held to account for their actions, and monitoring of playground areas at lunch and recess is insufficient (most of the bullying occurs when no adults are watching), the bullying problem will continue, and more students will end up with problems like mine.


Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 4, 2009 at 6:37 am


Object to the data, and be outraged by the findings, that is all fine- but publicly rip apart the presenter? Unacceptable. I was at the the meeting and listened to all the presentations. The information presented by Ms Ofek was for the 3 middle schools, not only JLS. Ms Ofek reported the facts, not in a 'blase' manner or without caring, but frankly and honestly. Hopefully, the people who are so vocal on this blog take their energy and opinions and get involved in working on the problem, not just sitting on the sidelines in judgement. I am a parent and i thank and applaud Sharon Ofek for her efforts to end bullying, She is a champion for children, and in this case of bullying at OUR middle schools, only the messenger.


Posted by A Caring Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 4, 2009 at 7:05 am

What's amazing in this blog of comments is how quickly some "shoot the messenger" Assistant Principal Ofek.

Here is a committed, passionate school official, using her intellect and instincts to work with a core survey group of PADACC to phrase the bullying questions, and then stands up in front of the parents to report the results, with as little editorializing as possible.

I attended the PADACC meeting last night. Everything in Ms. Ofek's affect and demeanor indicated her commitment, professional and personal, to identify bullying in its many forms, to try to stop it and towards that goal, to put it before the parents and senior school officials as a community issue to resolve.

I repeat, nothing last night swept bullying under the rug. Everything last night was about putting the facts out there, to share the Reality Check Survey’s results as the voices of the students in our schools.

What is so easy is to shoot a messenger.
What is difficult, is challenging, is needed through a sense of shared community action are not attacks on truthseeking professionals like Ms. Ofek, but are more open dialogue with faculty-students-parents about the concerns of our teens. And yes, Ms. Ofek and others on last night's panel emphasized the importance of that dialogue and paying attention to minimizing bullying and the other abuse that put teens as risk.


Posted by Hal
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 4, 2009 at 7:34 am

If I say "your painting is not pretty", am I a bully? In the brains of middle school students,
it does not take much to consider yourself bullied. The definition of Bully has changed and I wonder what the percentage would be based on the definitions of the 1970's?


Posted by PalyAlum
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:43 am

Former PAUSD,

You were dealing with parents who did not understand their child because they were deficient parents. They weren't the kind, nurturing parents or their child would not be bullying others. Or they knew their child was bad and were denying it because they were mean people also.

I know a female bully whose mom has been told many times that her child is bullying yet the mom is a career mom who has not addressed the problem with her child or sent her child to a therapist (a friend of hers told me this). So every year, the rest of us moms have to request that the bully be placed in a class different than our children. This child even tries to intimidate parents by looking them up and down.

You should have pulled your child from the elementary if he was being bullied and nothing could be done.

My son was bullied when we lived elsewhere and the teacher and school didn't do anything about it. There were times where the entire class would rally against him (someone would push him and the entire class would deny it). So I pulled him out after Spring Break and transfered him to another school. Thank God for that caring principal who let him transfer to her school. He is still on the shy side due to the experience but he doesn't need therapy.


Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:48 am

Former PAUSD Parent, you said it right. There is this great program called "Talk it Out" that requires two children who are peers and who have a generally good relationship to talk things over and come to a mutual resolution when a conflict arises between them. It is not meant for, nor is it appropriate for, use in situations where one child is just aggressing another for sport. Yet teachers and administrators regularly pervert this program into a one-size-fits-all solution whereby the vitim has to tell the bully that the comment or action was hurtful. And that is exactly what the bully intended. Eventually the victim just takes the abuse and shuts up because the alleged intervention just heaps more humiliation on the kid. And parents don't want to believe that their child could be a bully.

But also, the reality is that it only takes a couple of bullies and a class full of bystanders to make a child feel completely victimized and alone. We need to work on teaching our kids that it isn't enough not to be actively mean. How about teaching them to reach out to someone who maybe is different, or picked on, or just looks lonely? Or teaching them to have the courage to stand up for a kid who is reguarly targeted? Or just teaching them that saying mean things about someone you don't even know just for sport is just not a great way to behave? (Oh wait, as to this last, the parents themseles would have to stop doing this).

Having grown up in this town, I can say that the parents and children are different than they were in the 60s and 70s. They don't much care about other people, they don't want others to tell them their kids are misbehaving, and woe betide the person who stands up to their child and says the behavior is mean and unacceptable.

Sure makes it hard for the administrators (the ones who do care at least) to do their jobs when parents aren't partnering with them.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2009 at 9:05 am

A lot of this is down to the definition of bullying. When does simple childhood rivalries turn into something more serious?

We had a wake up call about this several years ago when our middle schooler was staying away from peers due to constant teasing and harrassing which we knew little about. Then an incident happened when the parents of one of these bullies approached us about something that happened at school and started bullying us. This was something we felt was a school matter but these parents did not want to deal with the school and dealt with the legal system instead. When we approached the school they knew nothing about the course of events and since the situation had already been taken out of their hands, there was nothing they could do about it.

When we see what some of the parents of bullies are like themselves it is hard to see how the kids could grow up with any different attitude. Kids' attitudes tend to reflect the parents' attitudes and when the parents are more likely to bully other's to "protect" their child then what lesson are they teaching all the kids involved. In an incident which was fairly straight forward and could have been solved by the school with one administrator sorting out a very simple misunderstanding being escalated completely out of proportion by the parents getting the legal system involved, we ended up with one traumatized child unable to understand what had happened. This event was just a misunderstanding that must happen frequently and could have been sorted out without any fuss but instead became a legal matter where the only winners were the lawyers charging the fees and everyone else the losers.

It did not start as a bullying issue, but the parents turned it into one.


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