Students nodded in agreement. They wiped their eyes. Some raised their hands and made the sign language symbol for “I love you.”
Kirk Smalley stood in front of an auditorium packed with about 700 students at Southeast High School. He talked about his son, Ty, who killed himself two years ago in Perkins.
Smalley, a tall, lean man with Wranglers and a handlebar mustache, still choked up when he talked about Ty.
“The day after my boy killed himself, they were telling jokes about him at school,” Smalley said.
Students recited an anti-bullying pledge together, ending with cheers and whistles from the group.
“You can make this stop,” Smalley said. “You're the only ones who can make this stop.”
The number of bullying incidents reported has increased during the past 15 years, Safe School Coordinator Tracy Alvarez for Oklahoma City Public Schools said. This year, a new reporting system will hopefully streamline and improve how administrators take care of bullying and other incidents in the district, Alvarez said.
A new website and hotline to report bullying in Oklahoma City Public Schools has generated more than 150 reports since it opened Aug. 1, according to district statistics.
The bilingual system was purchased with a $50,000 grant.
Reports can be made to ww.okcps.org or 587-STOP.
Complaints about bullying were reported to and investigated by local school leaders, and in the past, the process wasn't always followed the same way at each school site, Alvarez said.
“With so many schools, it was hard to get a grip on where we were,” she said.
Reports are divided into types:
• suicide risk
• threats of violence
Reports can be made anonymously.
Each report is sent to a team of staff members, including the school principal, counselor, resource officer and district administrators.
The program also tracks when alerts have been read by school principals.
“The program is going to give us that accountability,” Alvarez said.
Sometimes, an investigation may yield nothing, and no action can be taken, Alvarez said. But the district can now show that the claim was investigated.
Staff members can even create alerts to remind them to follow up with students who need further help.
Alvarez said she hopes the community will continue reporting problems. The system can be used by parents, social workers, family friends, juvenile judges — anyone.
About two-thirds of the reports have come from school employees, and the other third have come from the community, Alvarez said.
One report came from a social worker from the Department of Human Services, Alvarez said. A girl who lives in a group home was being kicked during dance class. Now, instead of the girl suffering in silence, an entire team of school officials knows about the problem.
Chance to speak up
The new system gives students a chance to speak up for themselves and friends, said Stacey McMillian, who teaches sophomore English at Southeast High School and invited Kirk Smalley to speak at the school.
“For students, the idea of talking to parents or teachers can be intimidating,” McMillian said.
“It is important that students have an outlet when they think no one else around them understands.”
This year, McMillian taught a section on bullying before moving on to teach about the Holocaust. Students learned about the different types of bullying.
“They think about physical abuse, but there's so much more,” McMillian said.
A group of McMillian's students said bullying should be at the forefront for students.
“You don't know what your words will mean to somebody,” sophomore Indica Hawkins said.
Sophomore Daisy Zaldivar agreed. “You don't know what's going on in somebody's life.”
Markel Dozier, another sophomore, said he was bullied for being overweight when he was in elementary school.
After hearing Smalley speak, Dozier said he hopes it will inspire more of his classmates to put an end to bullying.
“If they see something they don't like,” he said, “stand up for that person.”