School’s out, but Mokena mom’s doing homework — against bullying
By Susan DeMar Lafferty email@example.com June 11, 2012 11:12PM
Heidi Herrmann poses with her facebook web page where she has started an anti-bullying awareness campaign at her home in Mokena, Illinois, Friday, June 8, 2012. Heidi wants the Mokena school district to implement anti-bullying programs. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 13, 2012 6:06AM
School is out for the summer, much to the relief of Heidi Yergler Herrmann and her fourth-grade daughter. The Mokena mom, however, is busy doing homework, learning all she can about effective anti-bullying programs for schools.
Herrmann said her daughter was a victim of verbal bullying by a male classmate for the last five months of school, causing her grades, appetite, blood sugar and weight to drop.
Officials in Mokena School District 159 responded with “lip service,” she said. “No one did anything about it.”
So Herrmann is trying to do something about it.
“Being quiet about it is not the answer,” she said.
Herrmann has started a Facebook page — “We want an anti-bullying program at Mokena School District 159” — and is urging parents to join her at the June 20 school board meeting to address the issue. She wants to see anti-bullying programs implemented to help all kids, not just her daughter.
She has researched programs, called other schools and talked to principals to find out what works. The Facebook page has attracted more than 140 comments.
“I find comfort in knowing that my kid is not the only one who has been bullied and has had no response,” Herrmann said. “The school has a duty to keep our kids safe.”
By attending the school board meeting, she said she wants to “help” not “bash” the administration.
“If the issue is money, I will do a fundraiser,” she said. “I want a commitment from board members. They have to make this a top priority next year.”
But Supt. Steve Stein said an anti-bullying program called “Rachel’s Challenge” already is in the works and will be implemented in all three district schools next school year.
Changes also are expected to be approved in the student handbook, adding “bullying” and “cyberbullying” to the list of disciplinary issues.
Consequences may include detention, suspension or expulsion, depending on the circumstances.
Rachel’s Challenge was used previously in Mokena Junior High but was dropped this past year.
“This year was not the best in terms of contract negotiations,” Stein said. “Extracurricular things did not happen.”
The program — inspired by Rachel Scott, the first victim in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings — includes an assembly to give students positive social and emotional tools to use and training for staff and parents to make it an ongoing effort.
In the past, Stein said, they implemented a number of programs, some “self-made,” that focused on pro-social programs, positive character traits, appropriate behavior, using manners and being respectful.
“Of course, bullying happens and we deal with it as appropriate,” he said. “Every incident of name-calling is not bullying.”
Bullying is first handled by the classroom teachers, and if it continues, it is turned over to the prinicipal for possible disciplinary action, Stein said.
The District 159 board has a policy that prohibits “acts of harassment, intimidation or bullying,” noting that “a safe and civil environment in school is necessary for students to learn ... ”
Stein said it is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe environment because students spend most of their day in school.
“It’s not fair for students to have to worry about coming to school,” he said. “Bullying is not a huge problem. I do not have people calling me on a continual basis with that as an issue. For the most part, students are respectful of each other and of staff.”