NEW PORT RICHEY — Standing inside a Mitchell High School classroom this week, officials with the Pasco County school district and the sheriff’s office implored parents to play an active role in their kids’ education.
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but parents are critical,” Pasco school district superintendent Kurt Browning said. “Parents cannot drop kids off at their school and then just pick them up in the afternoon. They’ve got to provide some discipline, they’ve got to provide some structure for these kids.”
Before school opens Monday morning across Pasco County, Browning, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and others discussed school safety and antibullying efforts.
The group pointed to active parenting as just one way to help stem several issues, including bullying.
“Know who their friends are,” Nocco said. “We talk about bullying, sometimes kids might get involved with the wrong crowd, so find out who their friends are. It’s really important. Talk to your kids, ask them some questions. Find out where they are about school starting and how they are behaviorally.”
Nocco said a student will often give red flags when something at school isn’t right. Simply telling a parent they don’t want to go to school could be a sign of problems with peers, he said.
If parents or fellow students suspect bullying, it can be reported on the school district’s website by clicking on the “Together We Stand” icon.
There will also be posters in every school urging students to speak out if they witness bullying or are victims. The signs read: “1. Stop, 2. Walk, 3. Talk to.” The posters give the name of an administrator to whom they can confide in.
Another issue is how students behave when in cyberspace. They warned parents to keep track of devices – smartphones, computers and tablets – and ensure kids aren’t making inappropriate posts or taking risqué photos of themselves and posting them online.
Parents should have every account name and password to devices used and websites frequented by their children.
“Understand that your children have access to the Internet on their phones, on their iPods, at the public libraries, their gaming systems, the Xbox, the Playstation 3. They can access social media sites, they can access the Internet,” Detective Bill Lindsey of the sheriff’s office’s cyber crimes unit said. “You can’t basically eliminate your child from being out on the Internet, but you need to educate them about the risks.”
School district and law enforcement members participated in a Together We Stand summit in June to target signs of bullying. Students gave feedback and pointed out what to look for in bullying victims and bullies themselves.
Additionally, workshops have taken place to educate teachers and administrators on how to spot signs of bullying.
They also urged parents to contact the campus school resource officer. Those officers are now on Facebook, giving parents more than one way to reach out to them.
“We see very often that children when they get into transitioning from middle school to high school, sometimes from elementary into middle schools, there’s some changes that take place,” said Lt. J.R. Law, who heads the school resource section of the department. “And it’s very important that you as parents look for those changes. … We want to make sure that we all work together as a team.”
Browning used himself as an example. His two, now adult sons, were students in Pasco County and he talked about the level of engagement he and his wife had with their kids.
He spoke to teachers, found out who his sons’ friends were, what they were doing after school and when they were coming home.
“I believe, as a parent, and there may be folks out there who disagree with me because that may be invading the student’s privacy, if you will, as far as I’m concerned, students have no privacy,” Browning said.
The group agreed students should come into a learning environment feeling safe, not threatened. It’s a process that involves adults at home and at school working together.
“I don’t believe any child, any student of ours, should come into any of our schools and be told they need to toughen up,” Browning said. “They’re here to learn. I’ve told students over and over again, and I’ll continue to tell parents, the jobs of students for the next 12 years of your life is to get an education. That’s your job. And its our job to provide that education to them in a safe environment.”