L.A. school devotes a day to the battle against bullying

Sam Dyck’s drama sketch about bullying came from personal experience. The Hale Middle School eighth-grader said he was bullied in elementary school and saw friends being physically intimidated.

“My scenes were based on kids bullying because they’ve been bullied themselves, and sometimes it starts at home with parents,” said Sam, 14, after his presentation to classmates. “It’s like dominoes that keep falling, and it won’t stop until we make it stop.”

His account summed up the message of “Stand Tall Day,” a series of anti-bullying presentations, videos and discussions and self-defense sessions at the Woodland Hills campus.

Hale is one of the first schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to focus on the issue with a comprehensive, daylong program that officials hope can be used as a model. It is part of a nationwide drive to stem bullying on campuses and in cyberspace after a spate of suicides of gay and straight teenagers who had been harassed.

The U.S. Department of Education announced recently that it may withhold federal funds from schools that fail to stop bullying of gay and other students. Although many states have anti-bullying laws, several, including New Jersey, have moved recently to make them tougher. The New Jersey law, enacted last month after the suicide of a gay college student, requires that public school administrators and teachers receive training to identify bullying and that districts be graded on their efforts.


In December, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced similar legislation that would require school employees to intervene when they see bullying and to notify parents of both the victim and the aggressor, among other actions.

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school system, began using a new computer program this school year to better document and track bullying cases and other campus incidents.

“Bullying prevention should be integrated into everything that schools do,” said Holly Priebe-Diaz, a district intervention expert, who was at Hale to conduct a discussion on bullying.

Priebe-Diaz showed a video of a boy who said he had been constantly bullied in the schoolyard while other students looked on. Then, addressing the camera, the young student said he wanted to bring a gun to school to shoot his abuser in the leg. But he also admitted that he was reluctant to “tattle.”

“This is not snitching, this is life and death,” Priebe-Diaz told the assembly.

On a campus field, meanwhile, dozens of students practiced self-defense maneuvers, such as holding their arms out and yelling, “Stop,” presented by members of the Kenshokan Martial Arts Academy.

After finishing, Medinah Najib, 12, said the session was helpful and would give many students confidence to speak out.

“It’s better if more kids know about it, what’s bullying, what’s not; some kids don’t even realize that what they’re doing is bullying,” said Medinah.

Julie and Steve Santen, who attended a session for parents on cyber-bullying, said they worry about their daughter Natalie, a Hale seventh-grader, and about the hateful comments and threats that can gather strength hiding behind online anonymity.

“She’s got a Facebook page, but I’m on it all the time,” her mother said. “I’m friends with her and all of her friends and have busted them for some of the personal stuff they put out there and have contacted them and their parents.”

Hale Principal Neal Siegel said one goal of Tuesday’s events was to have students identify at least three adults they trust enough to talk to. The school also plans to start collecting data on how anti-bullying activities are affecting student behavior, such as attendance and graduation rates.

“We’re trying to be clear in our expectations and are not big on excuses like ‘Kids will be kids,’ ” Siegel said. “If you’re making someone unhappy, you’re bullying.”

Tianna Sellers, 13, who was featured in several of the student-written sketches playing a bully, said she found out that after one of the sessions, someone who had harassed another student had approached his victim, apologized and asked to be friends.

“I think this will change kids for the better,” she said.