Seventeen percent of third-through-eighth-graders in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 say they’ve been physically harassed in school, and 24% say they’ve been accosted verbally.

Those are among the results of a student bullying survey, discussed Monday at the school board’s Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting.

Not only can bullying be traumatic for the victim, but, as board vice president Biz Lindsay-Ryan noted, targeted children may not even show up for school, “compounding learning loss on top of the challenges of being bullied.”

Bullying does not mean simply being picked on occasionally. District 65 uses a definition from the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which calls bullying “an aggressive negative act done on purpose” that’s repeated and involves a power imbalance.

(Such an imbalance, for example, could describe the size of the perpetrator vs. the victim, or indicate a group of perpetrators).

Elijah Palmer, the district’s dean of climate and culture, said the most common campus locations for bullying are in the cafeteria, on the playground and in gym class.

Those first two locations, Palmer noted, are “our least restrictive areas,” with less adult supervision. The district, he said, will work to change that.

For example, there will be additional anti-bullying training for lunchroom staff as part of District 65’s ongoing anti-bullying efforts.

Ironically, a higher percentage of students report specific forms of aggression rather than overall bullying itself.

In response to the question “Have you been bullied in this class or school in the past few months?,” 85% replied “never being bullied.”

In contrast, however, when asked if they had “been hit, kicked, pushed or shoved around, or locked out of a building in this class or school?,” 17% responded positively.

And 24% confirmed they had “been called mean names, been made fun of, or been teased in a hurtful way in class or at school.”

It’s unclear why higher percentages ackowledged specific actions rather than feeling bullied overall.

One possibility is how the questions were phrased on the survey, or perhaps the children did not know that bullying has a specific definition as opposed to just being teased or even pushed.

Whatever the reason, it appears that children do not believe they are getting much support from adults or fellow students.

In response to “How often does your teacher or an adult stop bullying from happening?,” only 27% of students said a teacher stops it.

And only 20% said a fellow student intervened.

However, when asked “What do you think of or feel when you see a student being bullied?,” 88% said they “feel sorry for them.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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