B.G. school board looks at bullying

Counselors build new strategies with danger of suicide firmly in mind



Students, teachers and staff at Battle Ground High School grappled with tragic events in the past 11 months — three young men from the school took their own lives in that time.

The Battle Ground school district had already stepped up its efforts to support students in school and in their personal lives, by restructuring its counseling services along a national model. The string of suicides has lent even greater urgency to those reforms.

And the most recent suicide — David Suetta, a junior at the high school, died two weeks ago — shaped Monday’s school board workshop.

The board met Monday for a presentation from the district’s school counselors on how they had revamped their department in the last two years. While counseling in schools covers many areas, including graduation requirements and college selection, much of the discussion Monday revolved around efforts to reduce incidents of bullying and fighting in school.

The district is in the process of adopting a system of counseling designed by the American School Counseling Association, said Denice Harvey, director of career and technical education. Part of that adoption was to increase the time counselors spend with students and decrease the time they spend filing paperwork or performing other administrative tasks.

Counselors presented the results of the Healthy Youth Survey, which was conducted statewide last fall. The results appeared to surprise some board members.

Depending on age, 15 to 20 percent of high school students reported they’d been the victim of bullying in the 30 days before the survey was taken.

“Do you think that many students got bullied?” board member Ken Root asked Tim Lexow, Battle Ground High School principal, who was sitting in the crowd.

“I think that could be accurate,” said Lexow.

Fewer ask officials for help

About 2,000 students attend the school, according to state records. Twenty percent of that would mean 400 students had been bullied in just one month.

But only 43 incidents of bullying were reported to school officials in the entire 2010-11 school year, according to school documents.

Bullying self-reported by students in the anonymous survey includes cyber-bullying — harassment delivered via social media such as Facebook — Sheryl Piper, head of the school’s counseling department, told board members.

Board members and counselors began discussing what constitutes bullying when Brad Hazen spoke up. His son, A.J., killed himself nearly a year ago. Hazen said that the freshman had been bullied by a classmate days before his death.

“I just want to put it out there that bullying is a big deal,” he said.

The board will pick up that topic again in an upcoming meeting after talking in general terms during the counseling presentation, said John Idsinga, board president.

The district already has suicide prevention programs, including training peer mediators — students who settle disputes between other students. Forms to ask for mediation are posted throughout the high schools.

A coordinator from the nonprofit Youth Suicide Prevention Program will hold a workshop called “Prevention Works” at 2-4 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Starting Grounds Church at 203 S. Parkway Ave. in Battle Ground. It will provide information about the signs of teen depression.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/col_schools; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com.

Update: The workshop was held Monday. An earlier version of the story gave the wrong day.