CDA GETS 'EYE-OPENING' REPORT ON BULLYING AMONG STUDENTS Slurs, Harassment Common in Schools, Expert Says

Article excerpt

Coeur d'Alene school leaders are getting a glimpse of how cruelly some students treat each other, including sexual harassment, racial bias, religious intolerance, gay-bashing and badgering kids who are overweight, poor or disabled.

In a new report prefaced with a warning of offensive language, bullying expert Steve Wessler shares details of candid meetings he held with almost 300 middle school and high school students last fall.

The 14-page report released Friday presents raw anecdotes of bad behavior, from vicious name-calling to physical attacks. "A number of these incidents appear to involve criminal sexual assault or physical assault," Wessler noted.

The consultant from Maine has done similar work in schools around the world and cautioned local officials about the gravity of what might surface in his investigation, Superintendent Matt Handelman said Saturday.

"There were certainly things that were eye-opening, but I can't say I was surprised by it," Handelman said.

Some of the most troubling details, he said, involve boys groping girls and other demeaning conduct.

"I would see guys grab girls' butts, boobs and everything," one high school student told Wessler. "It makes you feel degraded, put down and like you are just a piece of meat."

A middle school student said, "A boy hugged me from behind. He slid his hands towards my crotch. I tried to wiggle out of his arms but he was holding me so hard I couldn't get him off."

Handelman said he already has spoken with Coeur d'Alene police about coordinating a more vigorous effort to address sexual harassment in the schools.

"First we need to know about it, and then we need to respond accordingly," he said.

Wessler met last October with students in focus groups at the district's three middle schools and two high schools. He also met with parents, teachers, principals and school-based police officers.

Students described a wide variety of degrading language, harassment and bullying they have experienced or witnessed.

"The boys say you are such a slut and bitch, go kill yourself, skank..." one gave as an example.

Use of racial slurs, stereotypes and jokes is high in both middle and high schools, Wessler found. Students said they frequently hear slurs about black people, Asians and Hispanics. Out of 96 middle school students in the focus groups, 81 said they had heard white students using a racial slur referring to African-Americans. …