In Bedford, officials concerned with bullying numbersBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
July 11. 2018 9:41PM
BEDFORD — School officials are voicing concern over a recent survey that indicates more than 20 percent of students feel they were bullied at school within the past year.
According to the results of the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more than 9 percent of students reported that they did not go to school in the last 30 days because they felt unsafe due to bullying, cyberbullying or fighting. In addition, 22 percent of students reported that they were bullied on school property or on the way to or from school in the past 12 months.
“We crossed the line where our trend in our community is not where we want it to be,” superintendent Chip McGee said. “We moved from being a little better than state patterns to a little worse.”
While many of the risky behaviors considered in the survey showed positive improvements for Bedford youth, the data does indicate that bullying is on the rise, as is marijuana use, binge drinking, rape, self-injury and suicide, according to McGee.
“It is sobering,” Bedford School Board member Bill Kessler said of the survey results.
He questioned how the data will be used to influence the board’s prioritization of goals at a strategic level and what tools the district has to address the issues.
School board chairman Jay Nash echoed those concerns. He said the survey essentially indicates that one out of every five students in the district has been bullied at school, which is not consistent with what is being reported to adults.
“It is hard to talk about at this level,” said McGee, stressing the importance of addressing these sensitive topics and deciding where the district’s resources will have the best impact on making improvements.
“Every kid who reports any of these risky behaviors we worry about,” the superintendent added.
Hannah Guilmette, an incoming freshman at Bedford High School, started an anti-bullying campaign last summer known as I’ve Got Your Back. She spoke to the school board this week about her mission to promote inclusion and kindness, and to serve as a voice for those who need one.
“All kids need to feel like they belong and are understood,” she said.
Her mother, Ann Guilmette, urged the board to consider updating the district’s existing bullying policies, which should include better training programs for staff, more supervision in areas where bullying is known to take place, and security cameras on buses, in cafeterias, outside of bathrooms and more.
“We need better definitions of bullying. Our policies and laws are ambiguous,” she said, adding students need to be taught how to be empathetic and staff must have the ability to execute consequences once bullying is acknowledged.
According to the younger Guilmette, a special needs student was mimicked by peers at an eighth-grade graduation dance in June. While Hannah Guilmette said she was pleased that the students responsible were suspended, her mother said the district still seems to be losing the battle against bullying.
“We need to have these conversations, but it is unsettling,” McGee said.
According to the survey, which was completed by 1,400 Bedford students, more than 17 percent of the students said they had consumed more than five consecutive alcoholic drinks in the past month, nearly 10 percent experienced physical dating violence, 23 percent consumed alcohol or used drugs before their last sexual encounter, 16 percent reported purposely hurting themselves, and 3.4 percent attempted suicide.
Other data collected from the survey indicates that 5 percent of students tried marijuana for the first time before the age of 13, nearly 7 percent of high school students took prescription drugs without a prescription, nearly 9 percent of student drivers reported that they drove after drinking alcohol, and about 7 percent of students reported that they were forced to have sex when they didn’t want to.