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BOE candidates weigh in on bullying

February 05, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Each of the nine candidates vying for four open seats on the Washington County Board of Education was asked the following question:

Do you think Washington County Public Schools has a bullying problem? What would you do to stop bullying in schools?

Name: Donna Brightman
Age: 56
Hometown: Southern Washington County

Prior political experience: Brightman was appointed to the Board of Education in May 2007 to fill a vacancy. She ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 general election for a Washington County Commissioner post.

Brightman said bullying is a "big problem," but one the Board of Education is working to address. A meeting with the Hagerstown City Council has been planned for next week, she said, and bullying is expected to be discussed.

Brightman said schools have a "zero-tolerance" policy for bullying. However, some bullying takes place off school property and through online social networking sites like Myspace.

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She said officials should handle bullying consistently throughout the county.

Name: Jacqueline B. Fischer
Age: 62
Hometown: Clear Spring

Prior political experience: Fischer served on the Washington County Board of Education from 2002-06. She lost her bid for re-election in the 2006 general election.

Fischer said bullying is a societal problem, not one that is unique to Washington County.

She said one solution would be to get children more involved and feeling more comfortable.

"Students need to feel that it's all right to tell an adult when they overhear something that disturbs them," Fischer said.

Too often bullying occurs when teachers and school administrators aren't around to witness it, she said.

"So, it's not that the school isn't trying to do something about it," Fischer said. "Often they are unaware."

She suggests counseling students that they should tell teachers, counselors, administrators or another adult when they are bullied or when they witness other children being bullied.

Name: W. Edward Forrest
Age: 44
Hometown: Hagerstown

Prior political experience: Forrest served on the Board of Education from 2000-07. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Washington County Commissioners in 2006.

"I don't think there's a systemic, widespread bullying problem," Forrest said. "Do I think bullying exists? Absolutely."

The policy currently used for bullying is based on good research, he said.

"It's a matter of educating parents and even staff that certain things shouldn't be tolerated," Forrest said.

He said additional staff development might be necessary, and suggested sharing information with parents and children about bullying.

"Kids may not even realize what they're doing," Forrest said.

Eliminating bullying will require a systemwide program of education for staff, along with giving information to parents and students about bullying and its effects, he said.

Name: Meredith Fouche
Age: 56
Hometown: Sharpsburg

Prior political experience: Fouche was a candidate for the Board of Education in 1988, but did not make it past the primary. He ran again in 1992 as a write-in candidate, but was not elected. He ran in 1990 for Washington County Commissioner, but withdrew before the election.

Fouche said he was not sure if Washington County Public Schools has a bullying problem.

"Honestly, I do not have a handle on that," he said.

If children are being bullied in school, Fouche said advocating for more self-esteem for students would help.

"Definitely, if it is a problem, I would address it if elected," he said.

Name: Justin M. Hartings
Age: 36
Hometown: Keedysville

Prior political experience: None

Hartings said he does not believe that Washington County's problem with bullying is any better or worse than other school systems.

He said bullying is in the nature of children as they grow up and figure out who they are.

Hartings said there are a few ways the Washington County Board of Education can address bullying.

"(Students) have to be in an environment where they are able to grow and discover who they are in a way that is free and nonthreatening for them," he said. "Bullying is what comes out when they don't feel free to express who they are."

For example, children who have an interest in math, the arts or other subjects should be allowed to explore those interests.

He said there also needs to be an open system in which students can report instances of bullying. However, that won't treat the root causes.

"If you have a child who doesn't know who he is, you can make all of the rules you want about bullying, but it's not going to do any good," Hartings said. "Surround them with things that allow them to self-actualize."

Name: Tom Janus
Age: 65
Hometown: Hagerstown

Prior political experience: Janus ran for a Board of Education seat in 2004 and in 2006, but was ousted in the primary election both times. He ran as a write-in candidate for the 2004 Board of Education election, but was unsuccessful.

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