Bullying in our nation’s schools needs to be addressed, and is being addressed. In Monona, near Madison, the police department is taking a new approach: fining parents for their child’s bullying.
Monona parents whose children repeatedly bully others can now be ticketed by police and fined in municipal court through an ordinance which took effect May 30.
Monona Police Chief Wally Ostrenga said he thinks the parent-liability clause will be used sparingly, if at all, and only in cases where parents are obstructive or uncooperative. He hopes the mere threat of a ticket will be enough.
“Sometimes you’ll knock on someone’s door and they won’t want to talk to you — their kids are perfect, they could never do anything wrong,” Ostrenga said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “This is for those times when we get the door slammed in our faces.” Parents who are making a good-faith effort to address a child’s behavior would not be ticketed, he said.
Parents can’t be blindsided under the ordinance. Before being ticketed, a parent or guardian must be informed in writing by an officer of a separate violation of bullying by the same minor within the prior 90 days. A first violation of the parent-liability clause carries a $114 fine. Subsequent violations within the same year carry fines of $177 each.
Given that the fine will not be assessed without warning, we think this new approach is reasonable. Children learn values at home, for better or for worse. If a parent or guardian is warned of his or her child’s bullying and does not take action to stop it, a community such as Monona has an interest — through fining the parent — in attempting to curtail the child’s bad behavior.
Much of the work on the parent-liability clause — the unique aspect of the ordinance — was done by Monona Det. Sgt. Ryan Losby, who shepherded the ordinance through a yearlong city review process. Losby said he was motivated by research showing almost all of the recent school shootings in the country were committed by students who felt they were victims of bullying.
“That end of the violence has really escalated,” Losby said. “There’s also the problem with social media. It’s too easy to put someone down on Facebook or through mass texts. You’re not looking at that person as a human being.”
Adults need to recognize that, as Losby points out, bullying happens to kids in 2013 when they’re alone in a room, via a computer or smartphone. New forms of bullying require new approaches to curtailing it, to doing all that we can to prevent bullied students from turning to deadly weapons.
But efforts to stop bullying and head off violent behavior must be accompanied by common sense, which seems to be in short supply recently.
In Calvert County, Md., a kindergartner was given a 10-day suspension for having at a school a cowboy-style cap gun ... with an orange tip. No reasonable person could claim he or she thought it was a real gun. Common sense also took a holiday when the 5-year-old was questioned by school officials for 2 hours before his mother was called, causing the boy so much anxiety he wet his pants. It’s sad when a kindergartner has an accident in the presence of adults, and the kindergartner is the only one behaving in a reasonable manner.
The boy’s suspension was reduced to time served — again, this is a 5-year-old’s punishment being discussed — and he was allowed to return to school on June 3. As the Washington Times put it in an editorial: “The crime wave in Calvert County is over.”
Maybe it’s a Maryland thing: Josh Welsh, a student at Park Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Md., was suspended on March 1 for chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of gun and, reportedly, saying the words “bang, bang.” He was 7 at the time of the “incident.” It’s astounding that the words “chewing a Pop-Tart” and “was suspended” can be written in the same factual sentence.
We recognize that school shootings put on edge the adults who work every day educating our children. While we are open to new ideas such as that being implemented in Monona, the adults must use common sense, reason and judiciousness in addressing issues of bullying and violence.
Please, if you work at a school: Keep your eyes open for the kids being mean and hurtful; tell the kindergartner he can have his cap gun back at the end of the day; and the child with the Pop-Tart? Let him chew it into whatever shape he wants.