Battling Bullies: How Central Louisiana schools keep bullying under control

CENTRAL LOUISIANA (KALB) - "I get dirty faces all the time," said Simpson High School Sophomore Kirsten Furse.

Throughout her academic career Furse has seen her fair share of bullying.

"When we are in class and a student gets up to walk to the bathroom, they will jump out of their seat quickly because they don't want them walking by them," Furse said.

Furse knows what it's like to be on the other side too. She admits she turned into a bully when teasing other students got out of hand. She left a note in her classroom with the names of her bullies and how she felt about them.

"They read it and they all got upset," Furse said.

However, her teacher took notice.

"As a teacher you see them everyday, you almost see them more than their parents do," said Simpson High English teacher Jessica Dooley. "They are with us eight hours a day so you learn their personalities."

If Dooley's name looks familiar that is because you may remember her as a recent Golden Apple Teacher. A title Furse actually nominated her for after opening her eyes about bullying.

"She found the paper," Furse said.

Dooley notified the office, but also told Furse about a prior bullying incident which she was almost too late to stop.

"The student was really in an awful place and having feelings of hurting himself," Dooley said.

Simpson Principal Lee Coriell said Dooley went the extra mile when handling the situation.

"Taking the extra step of actually working with the students is not a requirement of her," Coriell said. "It is just a blessing we have teachers like her here on campus."

But, how often do bullying cases get out of hand and how do bullying situations in Vernon Parish compare to Rapides and the surrounding parishes? Local school board officials said the answer isn't that alarming. Only a handful of cases so far this year have been brought to higher administration at the school board level.

In Rapides Parish there have only been three cases that the school board has stepped in on since the start of the school year in August. Avoyelles has three cases, Grant has two and Vernon Parish said fortunately, they haven't had to get involved in any cases so far this year.

"We've been very lucky," said Vernon Parish Director of Child Welfare Hub Jordan.

Jordan said once a bullying incident is reported in the school the administration must fill out a required state form.

"It is a very thorough bullying investigation form," Jordan said. "That when it comes to them in the office they are required to fill out this 4 to 5 page bullying investigation form."

They also have to make a few calls.

"Contacting the parent making them aware that hey your child has been a victim of bullying, we are doing an investigation," said Rapides Deputy Assistant Superintendent Clyde Washington. "As well as the perpetrator, as well as the bystanders or witnesses."

Washington said only the cases that aren't solved within the school make it to the board.

"If the parent is not satisfied we do a follow up investigation to determine if all measures were taken," Washington said.

While students are encouraged to immediately report incidents to their teachers, a few parishes provide extra resources.

Vernon Parish has a spot on its website for students to report bullying directly.

In Grant Parish the sheriff and school board started an anonymous reporting site called 'Kids Matter 2'.

As a parish with only eight schools Grant's school board works closely with Sheriff Steven McCain and often call him to handle bullying situations big or small.

"It's on a weekly basis that we are getting a call from an elementary school up to a high school somewhere in the parish," Sheriff McCain said.

Sheriff McCain is passionate about the topic and speaks to the schools often.

"It's serious, it has led to suicides all across this nation," Sheriff McCain said.

Dooley is also a firm believer in handling all cases seriously.

"Any form of bullying is severe," Dooley said.

She tells her classes if they give respect they are going to get it and urges teachers to stay alert, noticing changes in their students.

"If you don't get to know them, I hate to say it, but it is almost like you aren't doing your job," Dooley said. "Because in order to effectively teach them you have to know them personally."

Now it's Furse who tries to stop bullies in their tracks.

"I just really think everybody misses that everyone has feelings and they just have to make sure they don't push too many buttons," Furse said.

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