South Loop Community,
It’s been brought to my attention that there are some among our parent community stating that we have a bullying problem at South Loop. Let me begin by saying that my greatest responsibility as a school leader is ensuring your students feel safe, heard, and validated as individuals in their school experience. As such, bullying and bias-based behaviors are completely unacceptable at South Loop. To ensure we can protect students from these behaviors, I believe we need to begin with a common understanding of them, in order to help students know best how to find and use their in-school support systems and also understand when to advocate for themselves
We will begin rolling out an anti-bullying and title 9 (Inappropriate Sexual Behavior) assembly with middle schoolers next week. I think an important foundational component to begin with is to understand what is considered bullying and how our students can advocate for themselves. I want to look specifically at how CPS defines bullying, listing the following from the CPS Bullying and Bias-Based Behavior Policy:
“Bullying” means any physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or electronically, directed toward a student or students, and meets all of the following criteria. Note: if the behavior or part of the behavior is Bias-based or targeted at a member of a protected category please see the responding to Bias-based behaviors guidelines.
1) An observed or perceived imbalance of power exists between the person(s) engaging in bullying behavior(s) and the targeted student(s).
2) The behaviors are severe or pervasive (repeated over time), or there is a high likelihood that behaviors will be repeated. While bullying is often characterized by repeated acts, sometimes a single incident constitutes bullying depending on the severity and if other elements of bullying are present.
3) The intent of the person(s) engaging in the behavior is to cause physical or emotional harm to the targeted student(s).
4) The behavior has or can be reasonably predicted to have one or more of the following effects:
- a) placing the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property; Student Rights & Responsibilities
- b) causing a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health;
- c) substantially interfering with the student’s academic performance; or
- d) substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.
Bullying may take various forms, including without limitation, one or more of the following: harassment, threats, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, theft, public humiliation, destruction of property, or retaliation for asserting or alleging an act of bullying.
I bring this to your attention, out of concern, because a student found out from their classmates that they were being openly discussed by parents prior to the school having the opportunity to investigate, confirm and/or address an issue with the involved student and their parents. As I often say, we are a community and must address issues as a community. I’m happy our school environment is similar to a suburban feel where families can come together in groups to address issues, but it’s also important to maintain integrity and confidentiality when addressing any issue. We want every parent to be able to address issues with their child before a label is given to another child. This is particularly true in this case where the student in question did inform their parent of the allegation, and the parent gave really good restorative advice. It’s also important to understand the difference between a bad choice, a not so nice response or interaction, a one time physical altercation and bullying.
At South Loop, our diversity is truly our greatest asset, but that asset also unearths challenges sometimes, one of which is how the cultural understandings of conflict are understood and communicated in a variety of ways across a variety of households. On one hand, I’ve noticed an instance of a student advocating for herself being misinterpreted for bullying or aggressive behavior, but I’ve also seen students and parents label instances of disagreements among friend groups as bullying, leading students to a convoluted understanding of how they may advocate for themselves through a disagreement within their friend group. I have also unfortunately witnessed in my time as a school leader instances of students purposefully being made to feel uncomfortable, anxious, or fearful. Regardless of the level of conflict, please trust that no reported conflict at South Loop goes unaddressed and that each is held up against the district’s standard of bullying and bias-based behavior.
It’s a deeply unfortunate component of schooling that bullying exists, and I ask that you always report issues of perceived bullying to the SLE leadership team. It is also important to highlight the need for adults, when supporting students through conflict, to ask open-ended, clarifying questions and have an understanding of the entire story before reaching their own conclusions. Many times our children report a story based on the relationship they have with other students and their perceptions can sometimes be misinterpreted. From a developmental standpoint, this is absolutely appropriate, but it is up to the adults who care for and work with our students to help them navigate the complexities of the different interactions they have. As parents, our first reaction will always be to protect and defend our children, but we must sometimes temper that instinct in order to prepare them to be successful in school and beyond.
Administration is currently pouring through several books and videos which address cultural understanding that we can recommend to parents. I am also trying to find resources for our school community to support an ongoing understanding of how our different cultures respond to interactions and how microaggressions and/or biases can play into how we perceive bullying behavior. If anyone has any suggestions please email me.
We are here to create a supportive environment for our students. Please continue to have open and honest conversations with your children and encourage them to advocate for themselves, and address any concerning issues with administration. It is important to me to have open dialogue with parents anytime there’s an issue that doesn’t mirror our South Loop Pride Core Values. Please trust that school leadership will always handle any incident proactively and will do what is best to ensure your child feels safe.