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Phillips: How Auburn school district is addressing bullying

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but bullying is a topic the Auburn Enlarged City School District takes seriously year-round. Bullying is defined as ongoing unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

As we all know, bullying has been around at least as long as schools have existed, and probably before under a different name. Students of earlier generations were taught that bullies often have self-esteem issues or other issues that cause them to take their feelings out on others. Today, we know that to be true, but we also know that the real trauma that our students and our families are facing has never been greater. The hurt, frustration, isolation and lack of positive social interaction has no doubt led to bullying incidents in our community, as it has in districts across the country.

Unlike earlier generations of students who could leave their bullies behind as they left school, today’s students are often targeted online via cyberbullying. Cyberbullying follows students home and can be unbearable and inescapable. We as adults need to be aware and vigilant about this relatively new form of aggressive behavior and its increased impact on children.

Sadly, incidents of bullying continue to be too common both inside and outside of school. Our students need the whole community to be involved in solving these issues. To that end, we want to share with you some of the resources we have available, and invite you to get involved in helping us strive to do even more.

In order to address the social and emotional needs of our students, this year we have added four elementary school counselors and one school social worker. These highly trained professionals act as a resource for our teachers and help teach strategies to our students to increase positive peer relationships. We also know that reporting incidents of bullying can be hard for our students, so we have relaunched our Anonymous Alerts system that allows anyone in our school community to report sensitive concerns, related to bullying or anything else.

As in past years, our elementary schools teach a system called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which rewards and elevates positive behaviors rather than giving attention to negative behaviors. This deliberate model is integrated into our classrooms and in all areas of our schools.

This month, all of our schools will be doing age-appropriate activities to learn about how to be an "upstander and not a bystander," and regularly sharing quotes and facts about preventing bullying on morning announcements. We also encourage you to join us in wearing orange on Unity Day, Oct. 20 (Oct. 21 for Seward Elementary). Each school will be doing special events on this day, which will promote our unified approach both within each school and across the district and community.

We know that children can only learn when they feel safe and secure. Learning during a pandemic has been so hard for so many of our students. Bullying, when not addressed, can have impacts that last a lifetime. Studies show that students who are bullied have lower academic achievement and more often experience depression and anxiety that lasts into adulthood; those that bully have higher instances of addiction, criminal convictions and domestic abuse as adults.

While we highlight the need to prevent bullying this month, our work as a district and community continues to address the social and emotional needs of our students. The district has convened a Social Emotional Community Task Force of parent advocates, experts in the community and educators under the guidance of Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Camille Johnson. We look forward to sharing the creative solutions that this group comes up with as the year goes on.

Throughout the month, we encourage parents and guardians to have conversations about what their students are learning about bullying prevention. Please speak to your child’s teacher or principal if you have questions or want to get more involved.

Please visit our district website,, under the "Student Services" department tab for a complete list of anti-bullying resources and information. 

Ian Phillips is president of the Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education. For more information, call (315) 255-8800 or visit


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