SOUTH GLENDALE — When the Glendale Police Department’s School Resource officers were policing the middle schools last year, Executive Director Maria Rochart of New Horizons Family Center noticed that students behaved friendlier toward each other.
But since the officers’ positions were slashed from Glendale’s public middle schools due to budget cuts last July, she said, she has seen more incidents of bullying and verbal and physical abuse among the students.
Students have begun verbally abusing each other and loitering around South Glendale, which was an occurrence rarely seen when the officers worked at the schools, said Rochart, who founded the center in 1994 to help low-income families cope with domestic violence and child abuse and provides them with counseling and education.
“There are a lot of kids out in the streets,” she said. “You didn’t see that before.”
Students, who mostly come from Roosevelt Middle School, have been involved in shoving and name-calling matches outside the center, which worries Rochart because, she said, the fights may turn into violence.
“I am not happy with this situation because it can trickle down into the community,” Rochart said.
But while the school resource officer was cut at Roosevelt, a volunteer goes to the school about three days a week to fill the vacated officer position, Principal Maria Gandera said.
The full-time school officer deterred problems between students at the school and connected with the students, she said, adding that the full-time officers often handled issues that spilled out from the school into the community.
But the school doesn’t really have any problems with fights on campus and deals with bullying through an aggressive anti-bullying program, Gandera said.
“If there are any problems here, we deal with it. Outside in the streets, we don’t have the resources,” Gandera said.
Rochart’s most recent case of bullying since the officers were cut is a 12-year-old Glendale boy who was being bullied and was afraid to go to school, so he began wetting his bed, she said. The boy’s valuables were stolen from his school locker and students verbally harassed him, Rochart said.
The boy and his mother were given counseling to help him deal with the stress of being bullied, she said.
But the boy’s problem may not have grown as serious if an officer had been at the school and intervened to stop the bullies, Rochart said.
“I am very worried about what is going to happen to the boy,” she said. “I have never seen that.”
The Glendale Unified School District has not recorded any increased incidents of bullying or fighting since the officers left the middle schools, district spokeswoman Linda Junge said.
But bullying is common in the middle schools because students are undergoing emotional and physical changes, she said.
“Developmentally, it is a challenging time,” Junge said.
The middle schools have developed their own approach to deal with bullying, such as school assemblies to discuss problems among students, Junge said.
“Bullying is a theme and issue that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Rochart will begin keeping statistics of the number of middle school children the center has helped with counseling for bullying or fighting since the officers’ positions were slashed, she said.
The officers, she said, had an impact on students and helped reduce the incidents of violence.
Their presence on school campuses deterred children from getting into trouble, Rochart said.
“It makes a difference,” she said.
Rochart’s concerns of violence pushed her to ask Glendale Police Officer Sue Shine to talk to children at the center two weeks ago about bullying and fighting.
Shine said she advised the students to be fair and respectful.
“Look past your anger and feel bad for the bullies,” Shine said.
Students should walk in groups and stay away from larger groups when they are alone, she said.
VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.