Should middle schoolers be asked to name bullies?

SALEM Ore. (KOIN) — Don Fensler has been a teacher for 35 years and for the past 3 years has been a substitute in the Salem-Keizer district. But after his refusal to pass out a survey to his students asking them to name names of school bullies, Fensler said he now feels bullied by the district.

On February 11, Fensler was subbing at Judson Middle School in Salem. That day he was tasked with passing out an annual survey to the students.

“As soon as I saw the Question 3 about who are the bullies in this school, I mean something just set me off right away,” Fensler told KOIN 6 News. “This is just a totally inappropriate question in a public classroom with 25 to 30 middle schoolers where everybody could see everybody’s paper.”

He said he went to the office and told them he couldn’t hand out this survey. Later, a different staff member came in and passed it out to the students.

Three weeks later, Fensler got a letter from the district reprimanding him for not following procedure and told him further actions in this vein could result in his being fired.

“That’s on the letter of reprimand that I could be terminated if I continued this,” he said. “I was just trying to protect the kids.”

What the Oregon Department of Education says

Oregon public schools have an obligation to address bullying. In a statement to KOIN 6 News, John A. Inglish, the Education Program Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education, said, in part, “labeling” students as a “bully” should be avoided, and instead the focus should be on that student’s behavior. Inglish said it’s critical schools and districts conduct thorough and objective investigations.

Judson Middle School Principal Alicia Kruska said the survey began about 12 years ago as a way to address bullying and its surrounding issues. The students in the annual survey can remain anonymous, she said.

The survey is one way to try “to give those students that may be kind of quiet and shy and reluctant to come forward a voice in a safe way, so it was one tool we use to try and get information.”

It’s not the only way they get information, she said, but is just another way to compile data and information for them to use to address school safety. And, she said, the names are kept confidential.

“They are in no way disciplined in any way shape or form. It’s not about that,” Kruska told KOIN 6 News. “It’s again about allowing kids to voice concerns and share information and it’s also a tool for us to use when we’re talking with students.”

If a  student is named multiple times in the survey, the school doesn’t automatically contact the parents, she said. It is handled on a case-by-case basis.

The survey “is something that we’ve done for so long and it is, maybe it’s something we take a look at again,” she said. “Take it back to the parent group and say this is what our goals are, is it serving the purpose that we had planned.”

Only 3 people — the principal, the assistant principal and the behavior specialist — have access to the names on the bully list.

“I mean, I think our heart is in the right place when we’re really trying, we’re here to help kids,” she said.

But that is something Don Fensler just doesn’t think is what comes out of this survey.

“I would never hand out a paper like that and all the teachers I’ve talked to are the same way,” he said.

“I thought I did the right thing to protect the students from being bullied. Now I feel like I’m being bullied. I get this letter that says if you don’t do exactly as we say you could be terminated.”

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