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Prevent Bullying and Prevent Crime

Candidate for State's Attorney Mike Nerheim writes about crime and violence issues related to bullying in schools and why it is an issue of extreme importance to everyone.

As a new school year begins, and the Governor signs a new anti-bullying measure, the issues related to teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression on students’ feelings of safety and security in their schools, their academic engagement in the classroom, and—for some—their academic achievement and potential for graduation are issues of great concern to me as a parent, a lawyer and as a candidate for State’s Attorney.

Each day an estimated 160,000 students in the U.S. refuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal aggression of their peers. Many more attend school in a chronic state of anxiety and depression. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates 6 out of 10 American youth witness or experience bullying at least once a day. It is an important issue for us all to address.

Bullying behavior, and being a victim of bullying often leads teens to violent crime and drug abuse, and it is increasing in new forms due to the explosive growth of text, social networks, and photo and video sharing--now known as Cyberbullying.

While different legal definitions exist for some of these acts, it is not always clear when teasing becomes taunting, taunting becomes bullying, and bullying becomes harassment, etc.  What is clear, based on a number of Supreme Court decisions, however, is that schools are responsible for preventing and responding to teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, and physical aggression when it occurs.  What is also clear is that this is a community problem, and that there are no easy answers.

While there are efforts to legislate and put an end to these behaviors by mandating programs, the experts I have spoken with advocate a school-wide effort increasing students’ interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills. The bill signed into law by Governor Quinn is inspired by the successful “Challenge Day," which employs a carefully-designed, day-long series of trust-building exercises to foster new levels of empathy and respect.  This would seem to be a good start.

Dr. Howard M. Knoff is one of the country's leading experts on student behavior and helping educators respond productively to bullying and other school discipline issues, and is the author of the Building Stronger Schools Masters curriculum for teachers. I reached out to him recently to help understand how as Lake County State's Attorney, the office might help to protect our children from bullying and what role we may play in preventing it from negatively impacting learning in our schools and leading to teens lashing out through violence and drugs in response.

He shared with me the critical factors most highly correlated with academic achievement, which include:

1. A positive classroom climate that is conducive to learning,
2. A peer culture that is supportive of academic achievement,
3. The use of cooperative learning strategies complemented by positive and productive student and teacher interactions,
4. Effective classroom management,
5. High levels of academic engaged time coupled with a high percentage of teacher time focused on instruction, and
6. Teaching students to understand the underlying processes of what they are learning (educators refer to this as metacognitive understanding).

In reviewing this list, it indicates to me that we can't assume we can simply legislate or enforce laws to stop bullying, but that we need to work together--in the community, in the home and in the school--to ensure positive school and classroom climates; preparing teachers’ with classroom management skills; and fostering the students’ own social problem solving, conflict resolution, and coping skills. This solution Dr. Knoff defines as, "a school-wide system that encourages student accountability and self-management significantly contribute to the overall learning environment."

Dr. Knoff says, "When schools teach and reinforce positive and appropriate interpersonal, problem solving, conflict resolution, and coping skills, and students demonstrate these skills, teachers and students are more engaged in academic instruction, and incidents of teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, aggression, apathy, defiance, and intolerance decrease."  His focus is on inside the school. It's up to the rest of us--parents, guardians, community leaders and law enforcement--to do what we can to extend these efforts.

The State's Attorney can take a leadership role to make sure that the different agencies (social services, juvenile justice, and educational system) are all working together to provide that coordinated effort. We have to stress social skills programs so we are teaching kids how to have positive social interactions throughout their lives. Not just preaching to them. We have to make sure these programs translate into positive behavioral changes.

 

# # #

Mike Nerheim is a Republican candidate with extensive experience working in all criminal divisions of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office. As an Assistant State’s Attorney, he was well-respected by federal, state and local law enforcement for his guidance and approval of criminal charges and for his strong commitment to representing the needs of victims.

Nerheim is widely recognized for vigorously prosecuting those who have violated the law while respecting both the rights of victims and the rights of the accused to ensure no one is wrongfully convicted. He teaches “evidence” and “DNA,” and has successfully used DNA evidence in prosecution of criminal sexual assault. He has been appointed by the courts to investigate post-conviction issues pursuant to the Illinois Post-Conviction laws. He has written and argued post-conviction petitions on behalf of indigent defendants in defense of their constitutional rights.

Nerheim is an experienced prosecutor and defense attorney who is fair and dedicated to equal justice for all. His experience also includes areas of complex civil litigation and municipal law.

For More www.mikenerheim2012.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jose Cuervo August 13, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Justpassin, you may not be paying attention to the corruption in many of the local municipalities including those of school officials. I won't call you uninformed, maybe you chose to ignore that fact for your post . But lets forgo that for just a moment and remember that it benefits all of us to have candidates who continue to learn. Mr. Nerheim through his work as both prosecutor and defense attorney has seen first hand what bullying does. He sees where bullying leads. His suggestions start with behavioral changes. Personally, I prefer a candidate who seeks to be well rounded on all things, in addition to the law. As a parent, he has every right to reach out to experts in efforts to make suggestions on critical factors leading to academic achievement. I have met Mr. Nerheim at community events and asked him questions, shared my concerns, and learned as much about him as I can so my vote is informed. I've done the same with his opponent. I hope people take the time to do the same. With all due respect, the tone of your post is much like the mindless musings of a bully. I doubt the voters are uninformed about that.
Mike Nerheim August 14, 2012 at 11:14 AM
I'm glad you agree that the role of the State's Attorney is to seek justice. The State's Attorney is the Chief law enforcement officer for the county and in that leadership role is responsible for helping to ensure our streets our safe. A key component of law enforcement is crime prevention. The State's Attorney can and should make every effort to ensure that various agencies are working together in this regard. Bullying is not simply a school issue. Bullying effects our community as a whole and can have long-term consequences for its victims, most seriously, an increase in teen suicide rates. Bullying behavior often grows into criminal cases. The Lake County Juvenile Justice Council is lead by the State's Attorney and is made up of legal professionals, school officials, judicial representatives, community leaders, law enforcement and treatment providers. The council has a school safety commission which includes representation from the State's Attorney's Office and is responsible for conducting training and other programs aimed at making sure our children are safe while they are in school. A significant part of this is anti-bullying programs. This is a problem that cannot be ignored or left to the schools to handle alone. As State's Attorney and Chair of the Juvenile Justice Council I will work to ensure that these various agencies and groups continue to work together in the pursuit of a safe community.

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