12 February 2016
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Inza R. Wood Middle School in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District kicked off its Wood Reads event Wednesday, Feb. 3 with a bit of controversy.
After a school-wide morning assembly introducing the book “The Misfits,” the first in a series of books meant to address bullying in schools, and a brief skit from Wood students and staff approaching the subject, students returned to their classrooms. There, students took part in a secondary activity centered on the idea of bullying, which has some parents upset.
Veronica Gillas said her sixth-grade daughter, along with all the other students in the class, was asked to walk to the center of the room where a teacher would then ask a question. If the answer to the question was “yes,” students would walk to one end of the room, and if the answer was “no” they would head to the opposite end. If the question didn’t apply to him or her then the student would stay in the middle of the room.
SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Wood's anti-bullying initiative started with an assembly featuring role-playing and discussion about hurtful labels and name-calling.
The problem, in Gillas’ eyes, was that the questions seemed inappropriate and intrusive for school. She said that according to her daughter, the questions included, among others, “Have you ever been on governmental assistance? “Have you ever been suspended from school?” and “Have either of your parents ever been to jail?”
Gillas said, according to her daughter, it was not made clear that students could refrain from participating, and that multiple students ended up crying from embarrassment.
“I was absolutely beside myself when she told me,” Gallas said. “While I’m sure it wasn’t the intention, this activity could cause a lot of harm to kids. The activity was meant to prevent bullying, but it just gave kids more information and ammunition to use in bullying others.”
Gillas immediately called other parents asking if they had heard about the school activity. She found those that she called had a similar reaction, and were upset that such an activity could be allowed to happen.
While Principal Jim Severson does not know exactly which questions were asked in individual classes, and acknowledged that some teachers might have freelanced from the main purpose of the activity, he said the day of anti-bullying activities was set up and vetted by a committee. He said he did not hear any negative feedback from teachers immediately following Wednesday’s classes, but that any and all activities surrounding such a sensitive topic are reviewed and adjusted depending on response from students and parents.
“We always take feedback into consideration in everything we do,” he said. “Creating a sense of community for our kids that is equitable is the most important thing. ... I can say we have the purest of intentions when designing activities that aim to keep students better connected.”
STEVEN SPIELBERG'S SOMETHING EVIL
The district said the book, along with various activities, is meant to start the conversation about bullies in ways that lead to students feeling comfortable and safe. The activity was meant to show students they’re not alone in their set of circumstances, and that others come from similar backgrounds or face similar struggles.
SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - The book Wood students are reading 'The Misfits' features a quarter of awkward teens who band together to support each other and work towards standing up for themselves and earning respect from their peers.
“There were two things we were trying to accomplish,” said Assistant Superintendent Aaron Downs. “We’re welcoming our middle schoolers into a conversation about bullying while looking at labels and the negative effects they produce. I think when you open those opportunities for those discussions there’s a lot of sensitivity around it. But that was the approach for the day. Open up those conversations, see where our students are at and see that they’re respected, too.”
Severson said that if he had received information regarding negative reactions from students, such as crying or discomfort, necessary actions would have been taken accordingly.
“If I had known there had been kids in tears, and I don’t know the truth to that, someone would have been contacted and done something about it, whether it be me, a counselor or someone else,” he said.
Gillas said she talked to both Severson and Downs over the phone the following day, Feb. 4, but wasn’t satisfied with the reasons she received for the activity taking place.
“This action cannot be taken back by the administration,” she said. “These children are going to remember the answers to these questions. Worst case scenario is that this information is used against them by their peers.”
Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or email@example.com.