An international expert on countering discrimination and bullying will work with the Coeur d’Alene School District this year to assess the student bullying problem and help develop measures to end it.
Steve Wessler, a Maine lawyer and college instructor who wrote “The Respectful School: How Educators and Students Can Conquer Hate and Harassment,” will visit Coeur d’Alene schools and meet with student groups in October and January.
Wessler’s consulting work is part of an effort by the school district to crack down on bullying at all grade levels and change the culture that permits it.
His visits and recommendations will be funded by $11,000 from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, $2,000 from Kootenai Electric Cooperative’s Operation Round Up program, and another $3,000 to $4,000 from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, officials announced Wednesday.
“We all have kids in the school district, and we love them all so much, we just want them to be safe. They can’t learn if they’re being bullied,” said Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
Tony Stewart, secretary of the Task Force on Human Relations board, found Wessler in a national search for a consultant. Stewart got involved a year ago after he spoke with local students in summer classes and learned about their experiences with bullies.
“He said to me on more than one occasion, reducing bullying in the schools will not be effective unless you change the student culture and climate,” Stewart said.
Wessler will conduct in-depth student focus groups at the district’s middle and high schools and create student “respect clubs” in each school to counter the bullying culture. He also will train select school employees and police officers who are assigned to the schools.
“If the program is as successful as I believe it will be and hope it will be, the Coeur d’Alene School District will become a model that will be used throughout this entire region to work with other schools to tackle this very, very serious problem,” Stewart said.
A school district task force has been working this year on changes to school board policies and curriculum plus holding community events to improve how schools try to prevent bullying. Wessler’s work will enhance those efforts, Superintendent Matt Handelman said.
“We are really addressing this issue on a number of fronts,” Handelman said, including streamlined bullying education in the elementary schools and a pilot project for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at Woodland Middle School this year.
Whatever its origins, bullying will not be tolerated in Coeur d’Alene schools, said School Board Chairman Tom Hearn, a mental health therapist who has worked with bullies and their victims.
“Children deserve, and I think our parents expect their children, to be taught in a safe environment,” Hearn said.