Area Students Give Feedback at School Safety Forum

OSWEGO COUNTY – The Oswego County Anti-Bullying Coalition recently held a forum at CiTi BOCES in Mexico to meet with students from all nine school districts in the county.

The Oswego County Anti-Bullying Coalition recently welcomed more than 50 students from across the county to participate in an anonymous forum at CiTi BOCES in Mexico. The discussion focused on the students’ experiences and perceptions about bullying, school safety and incident reporting. The goal is to develop a more effective, standardized reporting process that will benefit students, staff, parents and outside agencies and lead to more successful resolutions. Pictured from left are coalition members Courtney Haviland, Oswego County Attorney’s Office; Del Guile, Oswego County Attorney’s Office; Brian Chetney, Oswego City-County Youth Bureau; Gregory S. Oakes, Oswego County District Attorney’s Office; Vicki Affinati, Oswego ARISE; Stewart Amell, Oswego County CiTi BOCES; David Persons, Oswego County Probation Department; Kristen Slimmer, Oswego City-County Youth Bureau; Annette Saule, New Justice Conflict Resolution Services, Inc.; and Richard Algie, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown High School.

More than 50 volunteers participated in the conversation to identify issues and underlying problems associated with the effectiveness of incident reporting as well as the level of involvement of school officials and outside agencies in resolving them.

For confidentiality, none of the students’ names were collected.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to hear directly from students about the safety issues that matter most to them,” said Oswego County Sheriff’s Deputy Kristy Crast, chairwoman of the coalition. “Having a better understanding of their concerns about bullying, school safety and reporting will help us target our efforts more effectively. Recognizing these issues is the first step toward improving communications and formulating a better reporting process for students, staff, parents and outside agencies that will lead to more successful resolutions.”

Representatives from New Justice Conflict Resolution Services, Inc. of Oswego administered student surveys and moderated the forum.

Students were organized into focus groups in which they completed anonymous individual surveys.

The results were then collected and reported back as a group.

Students were asked questions about what makes them feel unsafe and where these situations arose.

They were also asked to whom they turned for help and what steps were taken to mediate the occurrence.

Finally, they had a chance to offer their own ideas and suggestions for additional actions they thought might be helpful in the future.

Many of the participants reported similar experiences that were cause for safety concerns.

They include physical violence, verbal threats, discrimination and social media attacks.

These incidents occurred in the school yard, hallways, classes and buses, at sporting or other extra-curricular activities and over various social media platforms.

While some students said that they were comfortable reporting issues to parents, teachers, coaches, or friends and were satisfied with the help they received, there were others who responded that they were not.

The latter expressed concerns about not feeling heard or understood, a lack of proper training or security, and lenient policies and punishments.

Next, the students were shown a video depicting a bullying incident and asked for their opinion on the clip.

Many agreed that they didn’t experience similar situations in their own schools and believed that the video might be more representative of larger, more urban districts.

They added that, in a small school, bullying is usually more subtle.

In a double-blind exercise that followed, nearly all 50-plus attendees reported witnessing some form of bullying, with about half being the victim.

Of that number, only a dozen or so reported the incident, with just a handful recounting that they were satisfied with how the matter was resolved.

One student commented that it was “depressing” to see the results of that exercise.

Others said that kids don’t report incidents because they don’t like to bring attention to themselves or don’t want to be a “nark.”

Another said that while social media didn’t invent bullying, it has made the abuse more intense and easier to do, adding that the very nature of online anonymity makes cyber-bullying difficult for schools and parents to deal with even if it is reported.

Many students said that they would like to see more security measures in their schools.

These include guards, cameras and metal detectors as well as training for themselves and their teachers.

One student agreed, reportedly feeling safer knowing there was a threat assessment team in place in that school.

The forum ended with positive messages from and for the students.

Some offered affirming praise such as “don’t change, you’re amazing just the way you are,” or comforting advice such as “everyone’s story is valid.”

All agreed that the best behavior is for everyone to treat others the way they would want to be treated or, more succinctly, “be nice to everybody!”

The Oswego County Anti-Bullying Coalition was created in 2018.

It is comprised of various Oswego County departments including the sheriff’s office, probation, county attorney, district attorney, social services, youth bureau and E-911 together with the New York State Police, Oswego ARISE, Oswego County Prevention Coalition, Services to Aid families, Parents of Special Children, Catholic Charities, Integrative Counseling Services, New Justice Conflict Resolution Services, Inc. and members of CiTi BOCES and all nine school districts across the county.

For more information, contact Deputy Crast at [email protected]