BURRILLVILLE — While the Burrillville Anti-Bullying Task Force is having success meeting many of the goals set forth in its mission statement, incidents of bullying are still occurring in the town's public schools, Town Councilman and Task Force Co-Chairman Edward J. Blanchard told the council recently.
“I've talked to parents and teachers and it all comes back to the original issue of the school resource officer,” said Blanchard.
The schools have been without a full-time school resource officer since 2009 due to cost-cutting measures. Blanchard says there has been an attempt to curve the problem of school bullying by putting into the schools a part-time juvenile detective, “but in talking with parents and teachers, it's (process) still not doing what it should be doing,” he says.
The Burrillville Anti-Bullying Task Force is now mobilizing parents and school officials to lobby the Town Council and Police Department to reinstate a full-time school resource officer. A formal request will be made at the council's meeting next month.
Blanchard said the School Committee is also drafting a letter of support of the Task Force's request.
In October of 2001, the Burrillville Police Department received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the hiring of one additional police officer for a three year period.
The officer was hired in March of 2002 and with that hiring, the police department assigned Patrolman David Beauchemin to the school resource officer position.
Beauchemin had an office in both the high school and the middle school.
However, in a cost-cutting measure due to the cutbacks imposed by the state, the town decided in 2009 to no longer provide the School Department with a school resource officer. The police Department has also said in recent years that a lack of manpower prohibits the department from assigning a full-time officer.
But Blanchard says its time to reconsider, saying bullying has increased since the full-time school resource officer was pulled from the schools two years ago. He says the department's juvenile detective, while doing an admirable job, it not enough and that it is time once again to have a police officer in the schools throughout the school day.
“I've had many discussions with teachers and parents and I can tell you that bullying has increased ten-fold since the removal of the full-time resource officer,” he said.
Created earlier this year, the Burrillville Anti-Bullying Task Force is made up of 23 members that represent a vast cross-section of the community, including elected town officials, school officials and school administrative staff, teachers, students, parents, police and representatives of various community groups and organizations.
The task force has held several meetings and has come up with a town wide action plan and mission statement.
The School Committee created the task force in January to start a dialogue on measures the School Department and town can take together to prevent, control and eradicate bullying.
According to School Committee Chairwoman Debra Stockwell-Cavanaugh, who also serves on the panel, the idea to create a local anti-bullying task force came about when members of the School Committee along with Burrillville Parks and Recreation Director Cheri R. Hall and Burrillville Police Officer David Beauchemin represented Burrillville at the Rhode Island Anti-Bullying Summit held in October at the University of Rhode Island’s Providence Campus. During the summit, more than 200 participants brainstormed, discussed and came to a consensus about bullying and violence issues that are plaguing communities. The next step is to create a resolution for a uniform statewide anti-bullying policy.
Pam Shayer, director of the North Smithfield Prevention Coalition, another local organization working to support efforts to reduce bullying behavior in adults and children, says multiple studies have documented the association between substance use, poor academic achievement, mental health problems, and bullying.
“A small but growing body of research suggests that family violence also is associated with bullying,” she said.
To assess the association between family violence and other risk factors and being
involved in or affected by bullying as a bully, victim, or bully-victim (those who reported being both bullies and victims of bullying), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and CDC analyzed data from the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey. They found that sizable
percentages of both bullies and bully-victims acknowledged recent use of alcohol (32.7 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively, for middle school students; 63.2 percent and 56.3 percent, respectively, for high school) and recent use of drugs (32.0 percent and 19.9 percent, respectively, for middle school; 47.2 percent and 41.0 percent, respectively, for high school).
In comparison, smaller percentages of bullying victims and students who had been neither bullies nor victims acknowledged recent use of alcohol (6.9 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively, for middle school students; 31.7 percent and 38.5 percent, respectively, for high school) and recent use of drugs (5.0 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively, for middle school; 19.6 percent and 23.1 percent, respectively, for high school).