July 31, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Bullying, Threats and Chaos at Safety Agency

It was a rough week for Rafael Moure-Eraso.

Four days after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa dedicated a hearing to slamming his work as the head of the federal Chemical Safety Board, Moure-Eraso gathered his employees in a conference room at the board’s K Street headquarters to address the awkward situation.

His first announcement: He wasn’t resigning—a disappointment to some agency staff and alumni who pine for his ouster.

The second: He could admit he wasn’t perfect—a statement that was met by some snickers. When it came time to open the floor for questions, none came.

According to CSB employees and outside critics, Moure-Eraso’s four years as chairman have been far worse than “not perfect.” Under his watch, staff members say they’ve been bullied to keep debate low, key investigators have fled for the door, and an agency that used to be fueled by cooperative energy has turned toxic. Employees describe feeling downright paranoid, speaking in secret in bathrooms or avoiding colleagues they thought might reflect poorly on them.

The agency’s internal strife—combined with increased congressional scrutiny and a backlog of unfinished cases—has led some to label the chairman a failure and to push for him to step down early. But Moure-Eraso is not the first CSB director to struggle: The agency has had internal disputes since its creation, and some believe that any director of the board is being asked to do the impossible.

Former board member Beth Rosenberg, who studied under Moure-Eraso, is now among his critics. She resigned her post after serving just 17 months of a five-year term because she felt “marginalized” in an office filled with “demoralized” staff.

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An investigative backlog has raised pressure on CSB to correct its internal disputes. It’s caught the attention of members of both parties—House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Democrat Henry Waxman has flagged negative federal morale survey results, while Issa released a report on CSB’s problems and called on Moure-Eraso to resign.

Several sources within CSB spoke to National Journal anonymously for fear of reprisal—no titles or experience levels are being used to protect their identities. Former staff and board members and interviews in an Oversight Committee report help tell a story of an agency struggling with internal conflict as it looks to catch up with its mission.

BOARD MEMBERS LONG FOR DEBATE

Although the management troubles have reached throughout CSB’s 40 or so employees, Moure-Eraso’s soured relationships with the up to five members of the board that votes on reports and recommendations stand out. Three former board members said that they felt pushed out or challenged. A normally collegial and cooperative body, they say, was chilled.

Bill Wright, who served a five-year term under three chairmen that ended in September 2011, said his time under Moure-Eraso was “terrible” because he felt the chairman framed relationships through politics (Wright was a George W. Bush nominee, but said his record showed a history of pro-regulation votes). Fellow member William Wark, who served the same tenure as Wright, said there were constant frustrations on efforts like getting a management plan to organize cases or scheduling a public agenda meeting.

Exactly what I need as a busy college student.”

Samantha, Student

There was particular tension over the decision to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (which happened just before Moure-Eraso came on, but was carried out in his term), an accident the board typically wouldn’t have pursued because it was offshore and was being covered by other agencies. Both Wright and Wark voted for the investigation, but only under the condition that they could request dedicated funding from Congress that never materialized, and both now say they regret the decision.

The hiring of Richard Loeb as general counsel—a decision that board members said they did not have oversight over—also drove a wedge between the chairman and his fellow board members. The implication was that Moure-Eraso was trying to push general counsel Chris Warner out of his job for his support for the board members and replace him with someone more loyal. In an email cited in the Oversight report, Wark said the chairman was “getting bad advice” on human resources and said he should “not send threatening emails to Board members for doing their job.”

Under standard operating procedure, board members would debate with each other and inspectors, be briefed on investigations, and feel a part of guiding CSB’s overall mission. But they say that didn’t happen. Rosenberg’s testimony to the Oversight Committee includes a 2011 memo from Managing Director Daniel Horowitz to investigators in which he chastises investigators for going directly to board members with proposals and recommendations as well as requests that he be included in such discussions.

“Although I do not normally like to emphasize these matters—and prefer use of the collegial model—sending proposals and recommendations directly to board members without providing me a chance to review and approve them lacks professionalism and courtesy and undermines basic principles of sound management and appropriate workplace conduct,” the memo states.

It was widely seen as an attempt to lessen the power of board members, despite Horowitz’s assurance in the memo that it was not a bid to “stifle responsible discussion or debate,” but was to “avoid situations where staff appear to be communicating in an uncoordinated manner.”

In an interview, Horowitz reiterated that he didn’t think there’s been an attempt to freeze out board members and that investigators are encouraged to talk to them as long as management is kept abreast of the big issues. “We couldn’t be as good in our reports as I think we are if we didn’t do that,” he said. 

The dysfunction appears to have gone two ways. In a memo titled “Restoring Trust” released by the website TruthOut, CSB’s investigation leaders say their “trust is broken” because of the actions of Rosenberg and board member Mark Griffon, including an alleged incident where Rosenberg told staff in the Denver office that she was working to remove Moure-Eraso and Horowitz and potentially take the chairman post herself. Later in the memo, the investigators say that Rosenberg and Griffon “are working to delay reports” and are fomenting public discontent. Another memo expresses frustration that the two board members wouldn’t meet with staff and say that because of the delays, “our core mission work of issuing investigation reports is currently paralyzed.”

In a response, also released on TruthOut, Rosenberg and Griffon say they were not delaying reports, but were waiting on comments to come in. Rosenberg said in an interview that the incident was blown out of proportion—the complaints were only brought up months later after she and Griffon voted to hear more information on the Chevron investigation.

The implication: The memo was a response to a vote that didn’t please managers that were looking for consensus opinions.

Rosenberg has since left to return to academia at Tufts University. That’s an environment, she said in an interview, where she felt she could actually debate and discuss big issues. Plus, she said, “people give me hugs here.”

MORALE DROPS AMONG STAFF

That feeling has trickled down to the rest of CSB’s 40 or so employees. In a fiscal 2013 employee survey, effective leadership was given just a 42.3 percent score, the third-worst in the government. Only 20 percent of employees said their senior leaders were offering effective leadership, a government low (the average was 45.4 percent), and teamwork was rated at just 48.5 percent, also a government low (average was 64 percent).

Overall morale also showed a drop between 2007 and 2013 on statements like “I like the kind of work I do” (down to 76 percent from 94 percent) and “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment” (down to 70 percent from 94 percent).

It was enough to prompt a concerned letter from Waxman, who said he was concerned that “governance issues at the agency could threaten its important mission.”

A February 2013 email exchange obtained by National Journal shows how touchy things were with regards to the morale data: When Horowitz circulated an article that named CSB one of the best small agencies to work for, staffer Manuel Gomez responded that he was “troubled” by that characterization. Data showed that “we rank, at best, in the bottom half among federal micro agencies,” he wrote, adding “job satisfaction and morale are actually very poor by multiple measures.”

In an email response, Moure-Eraso blasted the “really pathetic” use of numbers to “spin” a case and said Gomez should “avoid spreading unnecessary and inaccurate gloom and doom.”

“I believe it is not at all bad to be the most improved out of 362 agencies,” he wrote. “It puzzles me why you have this wish to make things look gloomy.” When Gomez responded angrily and said it sounded like an “effort to muffle me,” Moure-Eraso said his email was “sent in a spirit of levity” and meant to “poke fun at the use of ‘medians’ in a very surfaced-based analysis.”

That atmosphere is also behind what critics have characterized as an exodus of experienced investigators. Four left in 2011, including two supervisors with 16 years experience, and CSB has lost an average of 2.5 investigators since 2008. (Since the Oversight report came out, at least two more staff members have left) A report from the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general on the CSB cited a 15 percent annual staff turnover rate and said that heavy demands and limited resources could be behind the moves.

That, said CSB employees, has left a lack of experience that has helped slow down casework and burdened the senior staff. The turmoil has grown so much, said one employee, that he felt CSB wouldn’t even hold up to its own scrutiny.

“We analyze the environment and culture in workplaces … for questions like whether employees are encouraged to report problems or bad news,” the employee said. “We’d be judging harshly a company that operates in the same way CSB operates. It’s just hypocritical.”

MARRIAGE COUNSELORS AND WORKFORCE COMMITTEES

Moure-Eraso says he’s not deaf to the workplace challenges and is working hard to fix them. CSB convened an eight-member Workforce Improvement Committee last November that since met 13 times and has recommended an outside development consultant. It has been made permanent with six volunteer members, according to leadership. Although employees have charged that the improvement committee is toothless and could be corrupted by management, Moure-Eraso promised it would be “an independent voice.”

An outside consultant was brought in to meet with staff and present a report on morale improvement (a sort of “marriage counselor,” Moure-Eraso said). But he denies the allegations that he’s tamped down on the board or investigative staff, saying he encourages open discussion and has instituted a “scoping” process that keeps status updates on reports more open. The complaints, he said, have more to do with debates on big ideas on how investigations or recommendations should go.

“The staff have very strong ideas about what the findings and the recommendations are and at the end it has to come to a report and ultimately come to the board,” he said. “There are some people with very strong opinions and their opinions don’t carry the day.”

Management has said that the turnover is normal and that they have replaced their losses with equally experienced hires (one new staffer had 33 years of industry work). The board also has plans to hire five or six more investigators in the next year and they’ve pointed out that reports are coming out at a faster pace, including one just weeks after the Oversight hearing.

The bigger question, however, is whether the chaos is new or is part of CSB’s short history. The non-regulatory agency was created in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and was seen as a counterpart to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other investigative bodies. But it took until 1998 for the board to become fully staffed up amid questions about executive oversight.

The board’s first chairman, Paul Hill, was alleged to be guilty of some dictatorial moves that overstepped the other board members, which prompted employees to seek guidance from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel. The ensuing “Moss opinion” laid out a system where the chairman is a “chief among equals” (a description codified by a CSB board order) and must listen to the four other board members when making decisions.

The small staff and tight $11 million budget for CSB has been cited as a reason for its investigative backlog, but also contributes to the stressed environment. Former board member Wark compared it to “a little chicken always getting pecked at” when politicians wanted an accident in their district addressed. There’s even been talk among stakeholders that it would be better off folded into NTSB or OSHA.

PRESSURE BUILDS

For now, though, people inside and outside the agency are just wondering how to fix the dim atmosphere within. At June’s Oversight Committee hearing, Chairman Issa called on Moure-Eraso to resign (“You really need to ask whether or not in your last year, you can really undo the damage of your first five,” Issa said) and reiterated that in a letter to President Obama.

Nobody questions Moure-Eraso’s commitment to worker safety, but they say his management style leaves in doubt whether CSB can uphold that mission.

An ongoing inspector general investigation into the leaked identity of whistle-blowers at CSB has complicated matters—the IG said that CSB officials were withholding documents (management had cited attorney-client privilege) and is still reviewing a recent release of emails to see if CSB has complied.

Two more nominees for the board are on hold in the Senate until that dispute is resolved. That leaves CSB in an unusual position—because of rules about collusion, Moure-Eraso and Griffon, the sole remaining board member, can’t be in the same room alone discussing official business.

There’s been no follow-up from either the White House or Congress, but discussions about Moure-Eraso’s future are continuing behind the scenes on Capitol Hill and among stakeholders.

“I know that the refining industry believes that a well-managed, professional, and respected CSB can play a much needed role in enhancing worker and community safety,” said an industry executive working with government officials on matters related to CSB. “To that end, we are intent on being a constructive voice in helping to re-focus the Agency toward its original mission of providing objective investigative analysis of incidents free of any political agenda.”

But Moure-Eraso has said he won’t resign and is determined to close out the remainder of his term.

Former board member Rosenberg said she’s confident that the governance issues are “fixable” and that she would like to see them be corrected soon. Others aren’t so sure.

“People have asked me if I’d go back and I say you’d have to turn the whole thing upside down,” said Wright, adding that he’d want board members to get hiring and firing powers. “It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of your career, but not when you’re marginalized and the staff can’t treat you with respect. I wouldn’t go back to that.”

http://www.nationaljournal.com/energy/bullying-threats-and-chaos-at-safety-agency-20140731

at 12:30 pm

Bullying, Threats and Chaos at Safety Agency

It was a rough week for Rafael Moure-Eraso.

Four days after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa dedicated a hearing to slamming his work as the head of the federal Chemical Safety Board, Moure-Eraso gathered his employees in a conference room at the board’s K Street headquarters to address the awkward situation.

His first announcement: He wasn’t resigning—a disappointment to some agency staff and alumni who pine for his ouster.

The second: He could admit he wasn’t perfect—a statement that was met by some snickers. When it came time to open the floor for questions, none came.

According to CSB employees and outside critics, Moure-Eraso’s four years as chairman have been far worse than “not perfect.” Under his watch, staff members say they’ve been bullied to keep debate low, key investigators have fled for the door, and an agency that used to be fueled by cooperative energy has turned toxic. Employees describe feeling downright paranoid, speaking in secret in bathrooms or avoiding colleagues they thought might reflect poorly on them.

The agency’s internal strife—combined with increased congressional scrutiny and a backlog of unfinished cases—has led some to label the chairman a failure and to push for him to step down early. But Moure-Eraso is not the first CSB director to struggle: The agency has had internal disputes since its creation, and some believe that any director of the board is being asked to do the impossible.

Former board member Beth Rosenberg, who studied under Moure-Eraso, is now among his critics. She resigned her post after serving just 17 months of a five-year term because she felt “marginalized” in an office filled with “demoralized” staff.

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An investigative backlog has raised pressure on CSB to correct its internal disputes. It’s caught the attention of members of both parties—House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Democrat Henry Waxman has flagged negative federal morale survey results, while Issa released a report on CSB’s problems and called on Moure-Eraso to resign.

Several sources within CSB spoke to National Journal anonymously for fear of reprisal—no titles or experience levels are being used to protect their identities. Former staff and board members and interviews in an Oversight Committee report help tell a story of an agency struggling with internal conflict as it looks to catch up with its mission.

BOARD MEMBERS LONG FOR DEBATE

Although the management troubles have reached throughout CSB’s 40 or so employees, Moure-Eraso’s soured relationships with the up to five members of the board that votes on reports and recommendations stand out. Three former board members said that they felt pushed out or challenged. A normally collegial and cooperative body, they say, was chilled.

Bill Wright, who served a five-year term under three chairmen that ended in September 2011, said his time under Moure-Eraso was “terrible” because he felt the chairman framed relationships through politics (Wright was a George W. Bush nominee, but said his record showed a history of pro-regulation votes). Fellow member William Wark, who served the same tenure as Wright, said there were constant frustrations on efforts like getting a management plan to organize cases or scheduling a public agenda meeting.

Exactly what I need as a busy college student.”

Samantha, Student

There was particular tension over the decision to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (which happened just before Moure-Eraso came on, but was carried out in his term), an accident the board typically wouldn’t have pursued because it was offshore and was being covered by other agencies. Both Wright and Wark voted for the investigation, but only under the condition that they could request dedicated funding from Congress that never materialized, and both now say they regret the decision.

The hiring of Richard Loeb as general counsel—a decision that board members said they did not have oversight over—also drove a wedge between the chairman and his fellow board members. The implication was that Moure-Eraso was trying to push general counsel Chris Warner out of his job for his support for the board members and replace him with someone more loyal. In an email cited in the Oversight report, Wark said the chairman was “getting bad advice” on human resources and said he should “not send threatening emails to Board members for doing their job.”

Under standard operating procedure, board members would debate with each other and inspectors, be briefed on investigations, and feel a part of guiding CSB’s overall mission. But they say that didn’t happen. Rosenberg’s testimony to the Oversight Committee includes a 2011 memo from Managing Director Daniel Horowitz to investigators in which he chastises investigators for going directly to board members with proposals and recommendations as well as requests that he be included in such discussions.

“Although I do not normally like to emphasize these matters—and prefer use of the collegial model—sending proposals and recommendations directly to board members without providing me a chance to review and approve them lacks professionalism and courtesy and undermines basic principles of sound management and appropriate workplace conduct,” the memo states.

It was widely seen as an attempt to lessen the power of board members, despite Horowitz’s assurance in the memo that it was not a bid to “stifle responsible discussion or debate,” but was to “avoid situations where staff appear to be communicating in an uncoordinated manner.”

In an interview, Horowitz reiterated that he didn’t think there’s been an attempt to freeze out board members and that investigators are encouraged to talk to them as long as management is kept abreast of the big issues. “We couldn’t be as good in our reports as I think we are if we didn’t do that,” he said. 

The dysfunction appears to have gone two ways. In a memo titled “Restoring Trust” released by the website TruthOut, CSB’s investigation leaders say their “trust is broken” because of the actions of Rosenberg and board member Mark Griffon, including an alleged incident where Rosenberg told staff in the Denver office that she was working to remove Moure-Eraso and Horowitz and potentially take the chairman post herself. Later in the memo, the investigators say that Rosenberg and Griffon “are working to delay reports” and are fomenting public discontent. Another memo expresses frustration that the two board members wouldn’t meet with staff and say that because of the delays, “our core mission work of issuing investigation reports is currently paralyzed.”

In a response, also released on TruthOut, Rosenberg and Griffon say they were not delaying reports, but were waiting on comments to come in. Rosenberg said in an interview that the incident was blown out of proportion—the complaints were only brought up months later after she and Griffon voted to hear more information on the Chevron investigation.

The implication: The memo was a response to a vote that didn’t please managers that were looking for consensus opinions.

Rosenberg has since left to return to academia at Tufts University. That’s an environment, she said in an interview, where she felt she could actually debate and discuss big issues. Plus, she said, “people give me hugs here.”

MORALE DROPS AMONG STAFF

That feeling has trickled down to the rest of CSB’s 40 or so employees. In a fiscal 2013 employee survey, effective leadership was given just a 42.3 percent score, the third-worst in the government. Only 20 percent of employees said their senior leaders were offering effective leadership, a government low (the average was 45.4 percent), and teamwork was rated at just 48.5 percent, also a government low (average was 64 percent).

Overall morale also showed a drop between 2007 and 2013 on statements like “I like the kind of work I do” (down to 76 percent from 94 percent) and “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment” (down to 70 percent from 94 percent).

It was enough to prompt a concerned letter from Waxman, who said he was concerned that “governance issues at the agency could threaten its important mission.”

A February 2013 email exchange obtained by National Journal shows how touchy things were with regards to the morale data: When Horowitz circulated an article that named CSB one of the best small agencies to work for, staffer Manuel Gomez responded that he was “troubled” by that characterization. Data showed that “we rank, at best, in the bottom half among federal micro agencies,” he wrote, adding “job satisfaction and morale are actually very poor by multiple measures.”

In an email response, Moure-Eraso blasted the “really pathetic” use of numbers to “spin” a case and said Gomez should “avoid spreading unnecessary and inaccurate gloom and doom.”

“I believe it is not at all bad to be the most improved out of 362 agencies,” he wrote. “It puzzles me why you have this wish to make things look gloomy.” When Gomez responded angrily and said it sounded like an “effort to muffle me,” Moure-Eraso said his email was “sent in a spirit of levity” and meant to “poke fun at the use of ‘medians’ in a very surfaced-based analysis.”

That atmosphere is also behind what critics have characterized as an exodus of experienced investigators. Four left in 2011, including two supervisors with 16 years experience, and CSB has lost an average of 2.5 investigators since 2008. (Since the Oversight report came out, at least two more staff members have left) A report from the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general on the CSB cited a 15 percent annual staff turnover rate and said that heavy demands and limited resources could be behind the moves.

That, said CSB employees, has left a lack of experience that has helped slow down casework and burdened the senior staff. The turmoil has grown so much, said one employee, that he felt CSB wouldn’t even hold up to its own scrutiny.

“We analyze the environment and culture in workplaces … for questions like whether employees are encouraged to report problems or bad news,” the employee said. “We’d be judging harshly a company that operates in the same way CSB operates. It’s just hypocritical.”

MARRIAGE COUNSELORS AND WORKFORCE COMMITTEES

Moure-Eraso says he’s not deaf to the workplace challenges and is working hard to fix them. CSB convened an eight-member Workforce Improvement Committee last November that since met 13 times and has recommended an outside development consultant. It has been made permanent with six volunteer members, according to leadership. Although employees have charged that the improvement committee is toothless and could be corrupted by management, Moure-Eraso promised it would be “an independent voice.”

An outside consultant was brought in to meet with staff and present a report on morale improvement (a sort of “marriage counselor,” Moure-Eraso said). But he denies the allegations that he’s tamped down on the board or investigative staff, saying he encourages open discussion and has instituted a “scoping” process that keeps status updates on reports more open. The complaints, he said, have more to do with debates on big ideas on how investigations or recommendations should go.

“The staff have very strong ideas about what the findings and the recommendations are and at the end it has to come to a report and ultimately come to the board,” he said. “There are some people with very strong opinions and their opinions don’t carry the day.”

Management has said that the turnover is normal and that they have replaced their losses with equally experienced hires (one new staffer had 33 years of industry work). The board also has plans to hire five or six more investigators in the next year and they’ve pointed out that reports are coming out at a faster pace, including one just weeks after the Oversight hearing.

The bigger question, however, is whether the chaos is new or is part of CSB’s short history. The non-regulatory agency was created in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and was seen as a counterpart to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other investigative bodies. But it took until 1998 for the board to become fully staffed up amid questions about executive oversight.

The board’s first chairman, Paul Hill, was alleged to be guilty of some dictatorial moves that overstepped the other board members, which prompted employees to seek guidance from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel. The ensuing “Moss opinion” laid out a system where the chairman is a “chief among equals” (a description codified by a CSB board order) and must listen to the four other board members when making decisions.

The small staff and tight $11 million budget for CSB has been cited as a reason for its investigative backlog, but also contributes to the stressed environment. Former board member Wark compared it to “a little chicken always getting pecked at” when politicians wanted an accident in their district addressed. There’s even been talk among stakeholders that it would be better off folded into NTSB or OSHA.

PRESSURE BUILDS

For now, though, people inside and outside the agency are just wondering how to fix the dim atmosphere within. At June’s Oversight Committee hearing, Chairman Issa called on Moure-Eraso to resign (“You really need to ask whether or not in your last year, you can really undo the damage of your first five,” Issa said) and reiterated that in a letter to President Obama.

Nobody questions Moure-Eraso’s commitment to worker safety, but they say his management style leaves in doubt whether CSB can uphold that mission.

An ongoing inspector general investigation into the leaked identity of whistle-blowers at CSB has complicated matters—the IG said that CSB officials were withholding documents (management had cited attorney-client privilege) and is still reviewing a recent release of emails to see if CSB has complied.

Two more nominees for the board are on hold in the Senate until that dispute is resolved. That leaves CSB in an unusual position—because of rules about collusion, Moure-Eraso and Griffon, the sole remaining board member, can’t be in the same room alone discussing official business.

There’s been no follow-up from either the White House or Congress, but discussions about Moure-Eraso’s future are continuing behind the scenes on Capitol Hill and among stakeholders.

“I know that the refining industry believes that a well-managed, professional, and respected CSB can play a much needed role in enhancing worker and community safety,” said an industry executive working with government officials on matters related to CSB. “To that end, we are intent on being a constructive voice in helping to re-focus the Agency toward its original mission of providing objective investigative analysis of incidents free of any political agenda.”

But Moure-Eraso has said he won’t resign and is determined to close out the remainder of his term.

Former board member Rosenberg said she’s confident that the governance issues are “fixable” and that she would like to see them be corrected soon. Others aren’t so sure.

“People have asked me if I’d go back and I say you’d have to turn the whole thing upside down,” said Wright, adding that he’d want board members to get hiring and firing powers. “It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of your career, but not when you’re marginalized and the staff can’t treat you with respect. I wouldn’t go back to that.”

http://www.nationaljournal.com/energy/bullying-threats-and-chaos-at-safety-agency-20140731

at 12:30 pm

Bullying, Threats and Chaos at Safety Agency

It was a rough week for Rafael Moure-Eraso.

Four days after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa dedicated a hearing to slamming his work as the head of the federal Chemical Safety Board, Moure-Eraso gathered his employees in a conference room at the board’s K Street headquarters to address the awkward situation.

His first announcement: He wasn’t resigning—a disappointment to some agency staff and alumni who pine for his ouster.

The second: He could admit he wasn’t perfect—a statement that was met by some snickers. When it came time to open the floor for questions, none came.

According to CSB employees and outside critics, Moure-Eraso’s four years as chairman have been far worse than “not perfect.” Under his watch, staff members say they’ve been bullied to keep debate low, key investigators have fled for the door, and an agency that used to be fueled by cooperative energy has turned toxic. Employees describe feeling downright paranoid, speaking in secret in bathrooms or avoiding colleagues they thought might reflect poorly on them.

The agency’s internal strife—combined with increased congressional scrutiny and a backlog of unfinished cases—has led some to label the chairman a failure and to push for him to step down early. But Moure-Eraso is not the first CSB director to struggle: The agency has had internal disputes since its creation, and some believe that any director of the board is being asked to do the impossible.

Former board member Beth Rosenberg, who studied under Moure-Eraso, is now among his critics. She resigned her post after serving just 17 months of a five-year term because she felt “marginalized” in an office filled with “demoralized” staff.

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An investigative backlog has raised pressure on CSB to correct its internal disputes. It’s caught the attention of members of both parties—House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Democrat Henry Waxman has flagged negative federal morale survey results, while Issa released a report on CSB’s problems and called on Moure-Eraso to resign.

Several sources within CSB spoke to National Journal anonymously for fear of reprisal—no titles or experience levels are being used to protect their identities. Former staff and board members and interviews in an Oversight Committee report help tell a story of an agency struggling with internal conflict as it looks to catch up with its mission.

BOARD MEMBERS LONG FOR DEBATE

Although the management troubles have reached throughout CSB’s 40 or so employees, Moure-Eraso’s soured relationships with the up to five members of the board that votes on reports and recommendations stand out. Three former board members said that they felt pushed out or challenged. A normally collegial and cooperative body, they say, was chilled.

Bill Wright, who served a five-year term under three chairmen that ended in September 2011, said his time under Moure-Eraso was “terrible” because he felt the chairman framed relationships through politics (Wright was a George W. Bush nominee, but said his record showed a history of pro-regulation votes). Fellow member William Wark, who served the same tenure as Wright, said there were constant frustrations on efforts like getting a management plan to organize cases or scheduling a public agenda meeting.

Exactly what I need as a busy college student.”

Samantha, Student

There was particular tension over the decision to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (which happened just before Moure-Eraso came on, but was carried out in his term), an accident the board typically wouldn’t have pursued because it was offshore and was being covered by other agencies. Both Wright and Wark voted for the investigation, but only under the condition that they could request dedicated funding from Congress that never materialized, and both now say they regret the decision.

The hiring of Richard Loeb as general counsel—a decision that board members said they did not have oversight over—also drove a wedge between the chairman and his fellow board members. The implication was that Moure-Eraso was trying to push general counsel Chris Warner out of his job for his support for the board members and replace him with someone more loyal. In an email cited in the Oversight report, Wark said the chairman was “getting bad advice” on human resources and said he should “not send threatening emails to Board members for doing their job.”

Under standard operating procedure, board members would debate with each other and inspectors, be briefed on investigations, and feel a part of guiding CSB’s overall mission. But they say that didn’t happen. Rosenberg’s testimony to the Oversight Committee includes a 2011 memo from Managing Director Daniel Horowitz to investigators in which he chastises investigators for going directly to board members with proposals and recommendations as well as requests that he be included in such discussions.

“Although I do not normally like to emphasize these matters—and prefer use of the collegial model—sending proposals and recommendations directly to board members without providing me a chance to review and approve them lacks professionalism and courtesy and undermines basic principles of sound management and appropriate workplace conduct,” the memo states.

It was widely seen as an attempt to lessen the power of board members, despite Horowitz’s assurance in the memo that it was not a bid to “stifle responsible discussion or debate,” but was to “avoid situations where staff appear to be communicating in an uncoordinated manner.”

In an interview, Horowitz reiterated that he didn’t think there’s been an attempt to freeze out board members and that investigators are encouraged to talk to them as long as management is kept abreast of the big issues. “We couldn’t be as good in our reports as I think we are if we didn’t do that,” he said. 

The dysfunction appears to have gone two ways. In a memo titled “Restoring Trust” released by the website TruthOut, CSB’s investigation leaders say their “trust is broken” because of the actions of Rosenberg and board member Mark Griffon, including an alleged incident where Rosenberg told staff in the Denver office that she was working to remove Moure-Eraso and Horowitz and potentially take the chairman post herself. Later in the memo, the investigators say that Rosenberg and Griffon “are working to delay reports” and are fomenting public discontent. Another memo expresses frustration that the two board members wouldn’t meet with staff and say that because of the delays, “our core mission work of issuing investigation reports is currently paralyzed.”

In a response, also released on TruthOut, Rosenberg and Griffon say they were not delaying reports, but were waiting on comments to come in. Rosenberg said in an interview that the incident was blown out of proportion—the complaints were only brought up months later after she and Griffon voted to hear more information on the Chevron investigation.

The implication: The memo was a response to a vote that didn’t please managers that were looking for consensus opinions.

Rosenberg has since left to return to academia at Tufts University. That’s an environment, she said in an interview, where she felt she could actually debate and discuss big issues. Plus, she said, “people give me hugs here.”

MORALE DROPS AMONG STAFF

That feeling has trickled down to the rest of CSB’s 40 or so employees. In a fiscal 2013 employee survey, effective leadership was given just a 42.3 percent score, the third-worst in the government. Only 20 percent of employees said their senior leaders were offering effective leadership, a government low (the average was 45.4 percent), and teamwork was rated at just 48.5 percent, also a government low (average was 64 percent).

Overall morale also showed a drop between 2007 and 2013 on statements like “I like the kind of work I do” (down to 76 percent from 94 percent) and “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment” (down to 70 percent from 94 percent).

It was enough to prompt a concerned letter from Waxman, who said he was concerned that “governance issues at the agency could threaten its important mission.”

A February 2013 email exchange obtained by National Journal shows how touchy things were with regards to the morale data: When Horowitz circulated an article that named CSB one of the best small agencies to work for, staffer Manuel Gomez responded that he was “troubled” by that characterization. Data showed that “we rank, at best, in the bottom half among federal micro agencies,” he wrote, adding “job satisfaction and morale are actually very poor by multiple measures.”

In an email response, Moure-Eraso blasted the “really pathetic” use of numbers to “spin” a case and said Gomez should “avoid spreading unnecessary and inaccurate gloom and doom.”

“I believe it is not at all bad to be the most improved out of 362 agencies,” he wrote. “It puzzles me why you have this wish to make things look gloomy.” When Gomez responded angrily and said it sounded like an “effort to muffle me,” Moure-Eraso said his email was “sent in a spirit of levity” and meant to “poke fun at the use of ‘medians’ in a very surfaced-based analysis.”

That atmosphere is also behind what critics have characterized as an exodus of experienced investigators. Four left in 2011, including two supervisors with 16 years experience, and CSB has lost an average of 2.5 investigators since 2008. (Since the Oversight report came out, at least two more staff members have left) A report from the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general on the CSB cited a 15 percent annual staff turnover rate and said that heavy demands and limited resources could be behind the moves.

That, said CSB employees, has left a lack of experience that has helped slow down casework and burdened the senior staff. The turmoil has grown so much, said one employee, that he felt CSB wouldn’t even hold up to its own scrutiny.

“We analyze the environment and culture in workplaces … for questions like whether employees are encouraged to report problems or bad news,” the employee said. “We’d be judging harshly a company that operates in the same way CSB operates. It’s just hypocritical.”

MARRIAGE COUNSELORS AND WORKFORCE COMMITTEES

Moure-Eraso says he’s not deaf to the workplace challenges and is working hard to fix them. CSB convened an eight-member Workforce Improvement Committee last November that since met 13 times and has recommended an outside development consultant. It has been made permanent with six volunteer members, according to leadership. Although employees have charged that the improvement committee is toothless and could be corrupted by management, Moure-Eraso promised it would be “an independent voice.”

An outside consultant was brought in to meet with staff and present a report on morale improvement (a sort of “marriage counselor,” Moure-Eraso said). But he denies the allegations that he’s tamped down on the board or investigative staff, saying he encourages open discussion and has instituted a “scoping” process that keeps status updates on reports more open. The complaints, he said, have more to do with debates on big ideas on how investigations or recommendations should go.

“The staff have very strong ideas about what the findings and the recommendations are and at the end it has to come to a report and ultimately come to the board,” he said. “There are some people with very strong opinions and their opinions don’t carry the day.”

Management has said that the turnover is normal and that they have replaced their losses with equally experienced hires (one new staffer had 33 years of industry work). The board also has plans to hire five or six more investigators in the next year and they’ve pointed out that reports are coming out at a faster pace, including one just weeks after the Oversight hearing.

The bigger question, however, is whether the chaos is new or is part of CSB’s short history. The non-regulatory agency was created in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and was seen as a counterpart to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other investigative bodies. But it took until 1998 for the board to become fully staffed up amid questions about executive oversight.

The board’s first chairman, Paul Hill, was alleged to be guilty of some dictatorial moves that overstepped the other board members, which prompted employees to seek guidance from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel. The ensuing “Moss opinion” laid out a system where the chairman is a “chief among equals” (a description codified by a CSB board order) and must listen to the four other board members when making decisions.

The small staff and tight $11 million budget for CSB has been cited as a reason for its investigative backlog, but also contributes to the stressed environment. Former board member Wark compared it to “a little chicken always getting pecked at” when politicians wanted an accident in their district addressed. There’s even been talk among stakeholders that it would be better off folded into NTSB or OSHA.

PRESSURE BUILDS

For now, though, people inside and outside the agency are just wondering how to fix the dim atmosphere within. At June’s Oversight Committee hearing, Chairman Issa called on Moure-Eraso to resign (“You really need to ask whether or not in your last year, you can really undo the damage of your first five,” Issa said) and reiterated that in a letter to President Obama.

Nobody questions Moure-Eraso’s commitment to worker safety, but they say his management style leaves in doubt whether CSB can uphold that mission.

An ongoing inspector general investigation into the leaked identity of whistle-blowers at CSB has complicated matters—the IG said that CSB officials were withholding documents (management had cited attorney-client privilege) and is still reviewing a recent release of emails to see if CSB has complied.

Two more nominees for the board are on hold in the Senate until that dispute is resolved. That leaves CSB in an unusual position—because of rules about collusion, Moure-Eraso and Griffon, the sole remaining board member, can’t be in the same room alone discussing official business.

There’s been no follow-up from either the White House or Congress, but discussions about Moure-Eraso’s future are continuing behind the scenes on Capitol Hill and among stakeholders.

“I know that the refining industry believes that a well-managed, professional, and respected CSB can play a much needed role in enhancing worker and community safety,” said an industry executive working with government officials on matters related to CSB. “To that end, we are intent on being a constructive voice in helping to re-focus the Agency toward its original mission of providing objective investigative analysis of incidents free of any political agenda.”

But Moure-Eraso has said he won’t resign and is determined to close out the remainder of his term.

Former board member Rosenberg said she’s confident that the governance issues are “fixable” and that she would like to see them be corrected soon. Others aren’t so sure.

“People have asked me if I’d go back and I say you’d have to turn the whole thing upside down,” said Wright, adding that he’d want board members to get hiring and firing powers. “It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of your career, but not when you’re marginalized and the staff can’t treat you with respect. I wouldn’t go back to that.”

http://www.nationaljournal.com/energy/bullying-threats-and-chaos-at-safety-agency-20140731

at 12:30 pm

Some anti-bullying policies disrespect free speech

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

What happens when anti-bullying measures leave students feeling bullied?

The Rutherford Institute is suing education officials in New Jersey, alleging they infringed on a student’s free speech rights when he was accused of bullying another student.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY: Though hardly anybody supports bullying, it’s important to remember the importance and purpose of free speech when crafting anti-bullying policies, First Amendment activists say.

The school nurse sent a letter to parents informing them a student had head lice. While fourth-grade students were working in small groups, one student asked a girl why she had dyed her hair. A third student, identified in the legal brief as “L.L.,” said the girl dyed her hair because she was the one with head lice.

The incident was reported to the school’s bullying specialist, who “launched a formal investigation and had L.L. removed from class so she could proceed to question him about the incident,” according to the Rutherford Institute’s brief. The specialist also interviewed other students and required L.L. to complete a sensitivity assignment.

The teacher then explained to the class why it was important to be nice, which embarrassed L.L.; his classmates knew his comment had spurred the additional instruction. L.L. was stigmatized as a bully, according to the brief.

“The kid didn’t know what was going on,” said John Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute. “He wasn’t demeaning her intentionally. He knew what the facts were. He made a factual statement. Then the entire class was reminded of what the kid had done and looked at the kid like Dr. Evil.”

The lawsuit alleges the state statute is too broad to allow for constitutional rights outlined in the First Amendment.

“Our client, all this sensitivity training — he ended up worse than the girl that had the lice,” Whitehead said. “They have to think about what they’re doing to the kid who’s (allegedly bullying).”

The policy is too extreme for common sense, he said.

“I would put this in the category of political correctness gone crazy amuck,” he said. “They don’t take into account what it does to the student who is called a bully when he’s not a bully. What do you do, put tape over your mouth so you don’t make a mistake?”

Whitehead and Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said policymakers need to remember the place and purpose of free speech when considering anti-bullying laws and policies.

“Public schools have a number of obligations, in terms of students they serve,” Paulson said. “They have to create a safe and secure learning environment, and that would mean shielding students from harassing behavior. But equally important is that they instill in young people an understanding of the core principles of the First Amendment and the importance of being able to share ideas freely. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

School leaders and policymakers should cultivate an environment in which students can express, discuss, disagree and debate ideas without being treated like criminals, Whitehead said.

Sensible anti-bullying policies should focus more on intent and less on the effect of a student’s remarks or behavior, he said. A student like L.L. cannot control the emotional effects his or her comments will have on other students, and may inadvertently offend someone without meaning to.

Good policy should also be clear about what behavior counts as bullying, they said.

“A good policy for public high school would be to express support for the free exchange of ideas, but make clear that speech that is substantially disruptive, threatening, or directly harassing can be punished,” Paulson said. “If you apply that standard, you go, OK, someone is saying this. Is it substantially disruptive? Not, ‘Does it make people feel uncomfortable?’ Not, ‘Did people disagree with it?’ But did it disrupt the operation of a school?”

For minor incidents, teachers could pull students aside and remind them to be courteous, without leaving a black mark on their permanent records, Whitehead said.

“We have a right,” Paulson said. “Students have a right to be free of harassment and bullying, but they don’t have a right to be free from exposure to ideas they’re uncomfortable with.”

The lawsuit is ongoing in federal court. The student’s parents are not commenting on the case.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org

http://watchdog.org/162420/anti-bullying-free-speech/

at 12:30 pm

Some anti-bullying policies disrespect free speech

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

What happens when anti-bullying measures leave students feeling bullied?

The Rutherford Institute is suing education officials in New Jersey, alleging they infringed on a student’s free speech rights when he was accused of bullying another student.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY: Though hardly anybody supports bullying, it’s important to remember the importance and purpose of free speech when crafting anti-bullying policies, First Amendment activists say.

The school nurse sent a letter to parents informing them a student had head lice. While fourth-grade students were working in small groups, one student asked a girl why she had dyed her hair. A third student, identified in the legal brief as “L.L.,” said the girl dyed her hair because she was the one with head lice.

The incident was reported to the school’s bullying specialist, who “launched a formal investigation and had L.L. removed from class so she could proceed to question him about the incident,” according to the Rutherford Institute’s brief. The specialist also interviewed other students and required L.L. to complete a sensitivity assignment.

The teacher then explained to the class why it was important to be nice, which embarrassed L.L.; his classmates knew his comment had spurred the additional instruction. L.L. was stigmatized as a bully, according to the brief.

“The kid didn’t know what was going on,” said John Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute. “He wasn’t demeaning her intentionally. He knew what the facts were. He made a factual statement. Then the entire class was reminded of what the kid had done and looked at the kid like Dr. Evil.”

The lawsuit alleges the state statute is too broad to allow for constitutional rights outlined in the First Amendment.

“Our client, all this sensitivity training — he ended up worse than the girl that had the lice,” Whitehead said. “They have to think about what they’re doing to the kid who’s (allegedly bullying).”

The policy is too extreme for common sense, he said.

“I would put this in the category of political correctness gone crazy amuck,” he said. “They don’t take into account what it does to the student who is called a bully when he’s not a bully. What do you do, put tape over your mouth so you don’t make a mistake?”

Whitehead and Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said policymakers need to remember the place and purpose of free speech when considering anti-bullying laws and policies.

“Public schools have a number of obligations, in terms of students they serve,” Paulson said. “They have to create a safe and secure learning environment, and that would mean shielding students from harassing behavior. But equally important is that they instill in young people an understanding of the core principles of the First Amendment and the importance of being able to share ideas freely. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

School leaders and policymakers should cultivate an environment in which students can express, discuss, disagree and debate ideas without being treated like criminals, Whitehead said.

Sensible anti-bullying policies should focus more on intent and less on the effect of a student’s remarks or behavior, he said. A student like L.L. cannot control the emotional effects his or her comments will have on other students, and may inadvertently offend someone without meaning to.

Good policy should also be clear about what behavior counts as bullying, they said.

“A good policy for public high school would be to express support for the free exchange of ideas, but make clear that speech that is substantially disruptive, threatening, or directly harassing can be punished,” Paulson said. “If you apply that standard, you go, OK, someone is saying this. Is it substantially disruptive? Not, ‘Does it make people feel uncomfortable?’ Not, ‘Did people disagree with it?’ But did it disrupt the operation of a school?”

For minor incidents, teachers could pull students aside and remind them to be courteous, without leaving a black mark on their permanent records, Whitehead said.

“We have a right,” Paulson said. “Students have a right to be free of harassment and bullying, but they don’t have a right to be free from exposure to ideas they’re uncomfortable with.”

The lawsuit is ongoing in federal court. The student’s parents are not commenting on the case.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org

http://watchdog.org/162420/anti-bullying-free-speech/

at 12:30 pm

Some anti-bullying policies disrespect free speech

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

What happens when anti-bullying measures leave students feeling bullied?

The Rutherford Institute is suing education officials in New Jersey, alleging they infringed on a student’s free speech rights when he was accused of bullying another student.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY: Though hardly anybody supports bullying, it’s important to remember the importance and purpose of free speech when crafting anti-bullying policies, First Amendment activists say.

The school nurse sent a letter to parents informing them a student had head lice. While fourth-grade students were working in small groups, one student asked a girl why she had dyed her hair. A third student, identified in the legal brief as “L.L.,” said the girl dyed her hair because she was the one with head lice.

The incident was reported to the school’s bullying specialist, who “launched a formal investigation and had L.L. removed from class so she could proceed to question him about the incident,” according to the Rutherford Institute’s brief. The specialist also interviewed other students and required L.L. to complete a sensitivity assignment.

The teacher then explained to the class why it was important to be nice, which embarrassed L.L.; his classmates knew his comment had spurred the additional instruction. L.L. was stigmatized as a bully, according to the brief.

“The kid didn’t know what was going on,” said John Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute. “He wasn’t demeaning her intentionally. He knew what the facts were. He made a factual statement. Then the entire class was reminded of what the kid had done and looked at the kid like Dr. Evil.”

The lawsuit alleges the state statute is too broad to allow for constitutional rights outlined in the First Amendment.

“Our client, all this sensitivity training — he ended up worse than the girl that had the lice,” Whitehead said. “They have to think about what they’re doing to the kid who’s (allegedly bullying).”

The policy is too extreme for common sense, he said.

“I would put this in the category of political correctness gone crazy amuck,” he said. “They don’t take into account what it does to the student who is called a bully when he’s not a bully. What do you do, put tape over your mouth so you don’t make a mistake?”

Whitehead and Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said policymakers need to remember the place and purpose of free speech when considering anti-bullying laws and policies.

“Public schools have a number of obligations, in terms of students they serve,” Paulson said. “They have to create a safe and secure learning environment, and that would mean shielding students from harassing behavior. But equally important is that they instill in young people an understanding of the core principles of the First Amendment and the importance of being able to share ideas freely. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

School leaders and policymakers should cultivate an environment in which students can express, discuss, disagree and debate ideas without being treated like criminals, Whitehead said.

Sensible anti-bullying policies should focus more on intent and less on the effect of a student’s remarks or behavior, he said. A student like L.L. cannot control the emotional effects his or her comments will have on other students, and may inadvertently offend someone without meaning to.

Good policy should also be clear about what behavior counts as bullying, they said.

“A good policy for public high school would be to express support for the free exchange of ideas, but make clear that speech that is substantially disruptive, threatening, or directly harassing can be punished,” Paulson said. “If you apply that standard, you go, OK, someone is saying this. Is it substantially disruptive? Not, ‘Does it make people feel uncomfortable?’ Not, ‘Did people disagree with it?’ But did it disrupt the operation of a school?”

For minor incidents, teachers could pull students aside and remind them to be courteous, without leaving a black mark on their permanent records, Whitehead said.

“We have a right,” Paulson said. “Students have a right to be free of harassment and bullying, but they don’t have a right to be free from exposure to ideas they’re uncomfortable with.”

The lawsuit is ongoing in federal court. The student’s parents are not commenting on the case.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org

http://watchdog.org/162420/anti-bullying-free-speech/

at 12:30 pm

Dickert joins anti-bullying campaign

RACINE — Mayor John Dickert has joined a national campaign to help combat bullying in U.S. schools and communities.

Joining about 170 other mayors from across the country, Dickert signed onto the campaign last month during the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Dallas.

Called the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying, the initiative is a partnership with The Bully Project.

The Bully Project is an advocacy and educational organization inspired by the 2011 documentary “Bully,” about peer bullying among American youth. Its aim is to end bullying in the U.S. by creating safe, caring and respectful schools and communities.

Mayors who signed the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying pledge to hold a screening and discussion of the film “Bully” as part of for National Bullying Prevention Month in October, and then “build on the awareness” raised by the event by organizing stakeholders to write and adopt a “bullying prevention policy for local schools.”

Although Dickert points out that the Racine Unified School District has long been working to curb bullying in its schools, like the peer mediation program, he was happy to sign up for the campaign to show his support for those efforts and any others aimed at stopping bullying.

Noting that even his kids have been subjected to bullying, Dickert said things like peer mediation are critical to helping stamp out the problem.

“Bullying is not good for anybody,” he said. “No child is exempt.”

He added that when he reads to classrooms, he tries to get students to consider the future effects of teasing or bullying another person by asking them to stop and think who that person might be when they grow up.

“Can you imagine if you had bullied the President of the United States?” is the question he usually poses to kids.

That usually makes an impact, he said.

http://journaltimes.com/news/local/dickert-joins-anti-bullying-campaign/article_674916a6-c13b-54f7-b8fb-8045e698e8e8.html

at 12:30 pm

Dickert joins anti-bullying campaign

RACINE — Mayor John Dickert has joined a national campaign to help combat bullying in U.S. schools and communities.

Joining about 170 other mayors from across the country, Dickert signed onto the campaign last month during the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Dallas.

Called the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying, the initiative is a partnership with The Bully Project.

The Bully Project is an advocacy and educational organization inspired by the 2011 documentary “Bully,” about peer bullying among American youth. Its aim is to end bullying in the U.S. by creating safe, caring and respectful schools and communities.

Mayors who signed the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying pledge to hold a screening and discussion of the film “Bully” as part of for National Bullying Prevention Month in October, and then “build on the awareness” raised by the event by organizing stakeholders to write and adopt a “bullying prevention policy for local schools.”

Although Dickert points out that the Racine Unified School District has long been working to curb bullying in its schools, like the peer mediation program, he was happy to sign up for the campaign to show his support for those efforts and any others aimed at stopping bullying.

Noting that even his kids have been subjected to bullying, Dickert said things like peer mediation are critical to helping stamp out the problem.

“Bullying is not good for anybody,” he said. “No child is exempt.”

He added that when he reads to classrooms, he tries to get students to consider the future effects of teasing or bullying another person by asking them to stop and think who that person might be when they grow up.

“Can you imagine if you had bullied the President of the United States?” is the question he usually poses to kids.

That usually makes an impact, he said.

http://journaltimes.com/news/local/dickert-joins-anti-bullying-campaign/article_674916a6-c13b-54f7-b8fb-8045e698e8e8.html

at 12:30 pm

Dickert joins anti-bullying campaign

RACINE — Mayor John Dickert has joined a national campaign to help combat bullying in U.S. schools and communities.

Joining about 170 other mayors from across the country, Dickert signed onto the campaign last month during the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Dallas.

Called the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying, the initiative is a partnership with The Bully Project.

The Bully Project is an advocacy and educational organization inspired by the 2011 documentary “Bully,” about peer bullying among American youth. Its aim is to end bullying in the U.S. by creating safe, caring and respectful schools and communities.

Mayors who signed the Mayors Campaign to End Bullying pledge to hold a screening and discussion of the film “Bully” as part of for National Bullying Prevention Month in October, and then “build on the awareness” raised by the event by organizing stakeholders to write and adopt a “bullying prevention policy for local schools.”

Although Dickert points out that the Racine Unified School District has long been working to curb bullying in its schools, like the peer mediation program, he was happy to sign up for the campaign to show his support for those efforts and any others aimed at stopping bullying.

Noting that even his kids have been subjected to bullying, Dickert said things like peer mediation are critical to helping stamp out the problem.

“Bullying is not good for anybody,” he said. “No child is exempt.”

He added that when he reads to classrooms, he tries to get students to consider the future effects of teasing or bullying another person by asking them to stop and think who that person might be when they grow up.

“Can you imagine if you had bullied the President of the United States?” is the question he usually poses to kids.

That usually makes an impact, he said.

http://journaltimes.com/news/local/dickert-joins-anti-bullying-campaign/article_674916a6-c13b-54f7-b8fb-8045e698e8e8.html

at 6:31 am

Campers learn about harm of bullying – Lincoln Times

Lincolnton Police Department Resource Officer Jennifer Green directs children in activities during a bullying prevention program held at the Lincoln County YMCA.

Lincolnton Police Department Resource Officer Jennifer Green directs children in activities during a bullying prevention program held at the Lincoln County YMCA.

ANNIE BLACKBURN
Staff Writer

Monday saw the summer campers at the YMCA celebrating Christmas in July, but with a very special message.
In partnership with the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse and Child Advocacy Center, volunteers from First Federal Bank of Lincolnton and the United Way, the YMCA presented Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to 60 campers, ages 5-12, in an effort to combat bullying.
Most people are familiar with the age-old story of Rudolph, the young buck that was born just a little bit different than everyone else. As he tried to fit in with his peers, he was taunted and ridiculed for having his signature red nose, but it was this difference that made him special by the end of the story. Campers watched the film and were then addressed by Lincoln County Sheriff’s Officers Lt. Tim Johnson and Detective Dann Renn and Lincolnton Police Officer Matt Painter and Resource Officer Jennifer Green.
Children were presented with bullying scenarios and were given tips to practice in the event that they themselves become victims of bullying. These tips included walking away with awareness, calm, respect and confidence; leaving in a powerful, positive way; setting a boundary; using your voice; protecting your feelings from name calling; speaking up for inclusion; being persistent in getting help and using physical self-defense as a last resort.
At the end of the day, campers made cupcakes shaped like Rudolph and were read a letter from the red-nosed holiday hero himself that reminded children that it will always get better.
“The moral is not difficult to detect,” the letter read. “Bullying is not cool, it is okay to be different, and differences makes us unique and strong. Yet people still need to hear the message that things can get better, but only if we all act to create change.”
Sherry Reinhardt, executive director of the Lincoln County Coalition against Child Abuse and Child Advocacy Center, emphasized not only the importance of recognizing that a child is being bullied, but also that a child could be bullying others.
“I think the word bullying often conjures up an image of a schoolyard scene with a big intimidating student towering over a small child,” Reinhardt said. “That is just one face of bullying. Another face of bullying is anything hurtful that is done intentionally to your child, for example, intentionally being excluded. Another face of bullying might be…that of your child. Knowing the facts and acting to change the situation is important.
“Kids bully for many reasons,” Reinhardt elaborated. “Some bully because they feel insecure. Picking on someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker provides a feeling of being more important, popular, or in control. In other cases, kids bully because they simply don’t know that it’s unacceptable to pick on kids who are different because of size, looks, race, or religion. Make sure you help your children recognize what being bullied is and what being a bully means. Try to understand the reasons behind your child’s behavior. In some cases, kids bully because they have trouble managing strong emotions like anger, frustration, or insecurity. In other cases, kids haven’t learned cooperative ways to work out conflicts and understand differences. Help your child to understand that bullying is as unacceptable as being bullied.”

http://www.lincolntimesnews.com/2014/07/30/campers-learn-about-harm-of-bullying/

at 6:31 am

Miami Dolphins put credo on T-shirts after bullying scandal – Las Vegas Review

DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins, rocked by a bullying scandal last season, are now wearing T-shirts bearing a credo of togetherness that was coined by the players.

One by one some of the members of the offense and defense removed their shoulder pads Wednesday and changed into the new gray shirt. On the back was a list of 10 sayings bordered by the words “I am a Miami Dolphin” that encompass their approach to the upcoming season.

Among the sayings that bring to mind last year’s scandal involving former offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is this one. “If I see something — I will say something — I commit to call it as it is.”

Head coach Joe Philbin applauded the gesture made by his players.

“I think the best way to do things is to give them some ownership and let them feel like I’m not coming down from the mountaintop and saying this is a must and this is a mandate,” Philbin said. “I thought they did a good job. I thought they gave some consideration and some thought to it and I think it’s good. Probably ‘I’m a professional,’ is one of them I like. But I think I like them all. They’re all good, but that one sticks to me. It’s kind of all encompassing, entails a lot. ‘Team first,’ too. Maybe I like team first better. I’m trying to picture the T-shirt.”

Considering that Philbin has come up with plenty of his own rules, he joked that some of the players think he has too many and that he’s “a little stiff.” He had approached a group of veterans during the offseason to emphasize his desire for them to take ownership of the team. The idea for an official credo came naturally.

Defensive end Cameron Wake, a three-time Pro Bowler, had showed off a T-shirt last year in the locker room that he and other members of the defense designed specifically for defensive players. That one was adorned with the words “Respect The Brotherhood” on the back surrounding a military style logo, so he was probably a good person to go to with the new shirt.

Fellow defensive lineman Jared Odrick also was one of the players approached by Philbin.

“I think it means a lot,” Odrick, a first-round draft pick in 2010, said of the T-shirts. “I think it gives us a visualization, something that we see every day, to try to embody every day in the locker room and onto the field. It’s something that helps because you’re there reading on everybody’s shirt. And it’s words that we’ve actually said. It’s words that have come out of our mouths.”

Notes: Wide receiver Mike Wallace and center Sam Brenner both were kept out of practice. Brenner was carted off the field Tuesday during practice. The two players joined Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and free agent running back Knowshon Moreno as spectators. Pouncey is recovering from hip surgery that is expected to cost him at least the first month of the regular season and Moreno is coming off of knee surgery.

———

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP—NFL

https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/sideline/miami-dolphins-put-credo-t-shirts-after-bullying-scandal

at 6:30 am

Police looking at cyberbullying in girl's death

Posted by in Cyber Bullying

TAUNTON, Mass. -

The news of 14-year-old Kacie Palm’s death rocked the city of Taunton. Police are investigating if cyberbullying is to blame.

The teen’s parents told their story to a local reporter, and it was front page news for the Taunton Gazette.

The Palms said their daughter committed suicide on July 17. Comments online have them wondering if cyberbullying is to blame.

A Taunton detective is now investigating.

“Absolutely, because I think people feel threatened and there’s a lot of that going on in the schools,” said Taunton resident Tena Kerns, “I have three children myself.”

“It’s a terrible thing,” said Taunton resident Juliana Ramos. “And kids take it so to heart what they say on Facebook and what they say on these sites.”

The news of Kacie’s death quickly spread in Taunton and online. Her Rest in Peace page on Facebook page has 3,000 likes. Many people are pushing for an end to cyberbullying.

On Twitter, the hashtag JusticeForKacie has taken off.

The Palms said they’ve heard several theories why Kacie committed suicide. One claims someone made a webpage to bully and harass her. Another claims she did it after sending a picture to a boy.

Kacie’s parents said that boy was mentioned in her suicide note, but the Palm family said teens aren’t telling them what happened.

“They should come forward and go to the police and let them know what is going on,” Ramos said.

Whatever police uncover, one thing is true, this tragic story is bringing both cyberbullying and suicide to light in Taunton.

Kerns said she’s been talking to her children about suicide and cyberbullying as a result.

“Yes, I have, because it’s actually very predominant,” Kerns said. “It’s very sad because these children don’t get the help that they need.”

The Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention is co-hosting suicide prevention training in Taunton on Aug. 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Benjamin A. Friedman Middle School at 500 Norton Ave. To register, call 508-922-7278.

The event was planned before Kacie’s death.

http://www.turnto10.com/story/26156284/police-looking-at-cyberbullying-in-girls-death

at 6:30 am

UN Says ‘Evidence’ Points to Israel in Gaza School Attack

Posted by in School

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/31/world/middleeast/un-says-evidence-points-to-israel-in-gaza-school-attack.html

at 6:30 am

UN says Israel violated international law, after shells hit school in Gaza

Posted by in School

United Nations officials accused Israel of violating international law after artillery shells slammed into a school overflowing with evacuees Wednesday, an attack that Palestinian and U.N. officials said killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens as they slept.

It was one of the worst mass-casualty incidents of the three-week war. The building was the sixth U.N. school in the Gaza Strip to be rocked by explosions during the conflict.

Israeli officials said they were trying to determine who was responsible for the bloodshed. In past incidents, the Israeli military blamed errant rocket or mortar fire by Gaza militants for explosions at U.N. schools — or said the blasts were under investigation.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which operated the school-turned-shelter in the Jabalya refugee camp, said it had gathered evidence, analyzed bomb fragments and examined craters after the attack. Its initial assessment was that three Israeli artillery shells hit the school where 3,300 people had sought refuge.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces,” said Pierre Krähenbühl, the UNRWA commissioner-general. “This is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause” of the pre-dawn attack.

Ban said Israel had received the precise GPS coordinates of the school from the United Nations 17 times.

The White House issued a statement condemning the attack and lamenting the deaths, but did not mention Israel as the possible source.

The Israeli military announced a brief humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening. The pause in hostilities would not apply to areas in which the military is operating, it said.

A Hamas spokesman dismissed the lull as a “media stunt” that would not allow rescue workers to recover casualties in combat zones that Israel was excluding from the cease-fire.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman for the Israeli military, called the shelling of the U.N. school “a true tragedy,” and said the incident is under investigation.

“There was mortar fire in the area, directed at our troops,” he said. “There was an exchange of fire. We have yet to determine if it was Israeli munitions that struck the compound.”


Satellite images released by the United Nations show the impact of Israeli strikes on structures in Gaza. One of the most ravaged areas is the Shijaiyah neighborhood in the southeastern part of Gaza City.

One of the survivors said she had no doubt who was at fault for the barrage.

“There were five shells, one after the other. We were a clear target,” said Hannah Sweilem, 33, who was in the shelter with her husband and eight children. “If the Israelis say it was a mistake, they are lying.”

“We blame the United Nations,” she added. “We are under their protection.”

The Israeli military said Hamas and other militant groups are fighting in residential areas and using civilians as human shields.

Lerner said that several previous high-profile attacks blamed on Israel, at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital and the Al-Shati refugee camp, were actually blunders by Hamas, whose rockets and mortars were falling short of their targets in Israel.

Hidden caches of rockets have been discovered at three U.N. schools in Gaza since the conflict began, and the refugee agency has accused unnamed groups of putting civilians at risk. “We call on all the warring parties to respect the inviolability of U.N. property,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement Tuesday, after weapons were found at one such facility.

Gaza Health Ministry officials said that more than 105 people were killed in Israeli strikes Wednesday and that more than 400 were injured as Israel pressed ahead with its escalated campaign against the coastal enclave.

The Palestinian casualty toll rose to at least 1,340 killed and about 7,200 injured, Gaza health officials said. Many of the casualties have been civilians, including about a third who are children, according to the United Nations.

Israel has lost at least 53 soldiers in the conflict, its largest toll since its 2006 war in Lebanon. Mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza also have killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his country in a televised address Monday evening to be prepared for a prolonged campaign against Hamas. Israel has said it cannot stop until it dismantles a network of tunnels that are used by militants to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza.

Witnesses at the Jabalya Primary School for Girls said the shelling Wednesday struck a classroom where about 50 people, mostly women and children, were sleeping. The room’s roof was ripped apart.

Most of the dead, however, were young men who had woken for the traditional Muslim dawn prayer, said Moen al-Masr, a doctor at the Kamal Odwan hospital.

Said Allah al-Bes, 33, who was seeking refuge at the school with his wife and three sons: “We found people torn to pieces. It was like hell.”

Bes and his family went to the U.N. facility after an earlier attack on a U.N.-run school in Beit Hanoun. “We have learned no place is safe in Gaza,” he said.

Booth and Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Islam Abdel Karim in Gaza City contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/israel-presses-attack-16-killed-at-un-school/2014/07/30/4a643588-17a5-11e4-85b6-c1451e622637_story.html

at 6:30 am

Israeli Shells Are Said to Hit a UN School

Posted by in School

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/31/world/middleeast/israel-gaza.html

at 12:30 am

Dolphins’ credo on T-shirts after bullying scandal

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Dolphins, rocked by a bullying scandal last season, are now wearing T-shirts bearing a credo of togetherness that was coined by the players.

One by one some of the members of the offense and defense removed their shoulder pads Wednesday and changed into the new gray shirt. On the back was a list of 10 sayings bordered by the words “I am a Miami Dolphin” that encompass their approach to the upcoming season.

Among the sayings that bring to mind last year’s scandal involving former offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is this one. “If I see something — I will say something — I commit to call it as it is.”

Head coach Joe Philbin applauded the gesture made by his players.

“I think the best way to do things is to give them some ownership and let them feel like I’m not coming down from the mountaintop and saying this is a must and this is a mandate,” Philbin said. “I thought they did a good job. I thought they gave some consideration and some thought to it and I think it’s good. Probably ‘I’m a professional,’ is one of them I like. But I think I like them all. They’re all good, but that one sticks to me. It’s kind of all encompassing, entails a lot. ‘Team first,’ too. Maybe I like team first better. I’m trying to picture the T-shirt.”

Considering that Philbin has come up with plenty of his own rules, he joked that some of the players think he has too many and that he’s “a little stiff.” He had approached a group of veterans during the offseason to emphasize his desire for them to take ownership of the team. The idea for an official credo came naturally.

Defensive end Cameron Wake, a three-time Pro Bowler, had showed off a T-shirt last year in the locker room that he and other members of the defense designed specifically for defensive players. That one was adorned with the words “Respect The Brotherhood” on the back surrounding a military style logo, so he was probably a good person to go to with the new shirt.

http://journaltimes.com/sports/football/dolphins-credo-on-t-shirts-after-bullying-scandal/article_3a65a301-0eb8-5b28-ba17-6e16a1b9af73.html

at 12:30 am

Bullying a concern for parents as back to school draws near

Cyber bully

Cyber bully



Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 4:50 pm

Bullying a concern for parents as back to school draws near


0 comments

BRADENTON, Fla. — Constant bullying has driven some children and teens into a deep depression, and some have even committed suicide. Others become bullies themselves.

ABC 7 sat down with a Bradenton mother whose daughter endured bullying at school, as well as a mental health counselor, to find out more.

“She got attacked at school … She got scratched. They stole everything that she had.” Zulamit Barroso’s worst nightmare came true when her daughter came home and informed her she was being bullied at school. Her daughter Arianne is a special needs student who had to transfer to another school because of the constant mental and physical abuse. Arianne even took to punching the wall out of frustration. Barroso says even though faculty was told about the abuse, the bullying continued.

“Every time, she went to complain to a teacher or counselor. She was asked if she had any witnesses … when she said no, they said they could not do anything about it,” she says

Clark West, a licensed mental health counselor at Affordable Mental Health Counseling Services of Sarasota says that to properly identify whether a kid is being bullied, parents and their children must have a good rapport with each other as well as great communication.

“Tell people. Open up — don’t be ashamed,” he says. “A lot of kids these days are really ashamed of telling an adult that someone is beating them up or threatening them. This is not primarily about you, this is about the abuser.”

And it’s not just physical bullying and harassment that is a problem.

“Cyberbullying these days are just as bad as the physical contact,” West says. “You know, what are your kids doing on Facebook?”

In Zulamit and her daughter Arianne’s case, Clark West has advice for them — others who are in the same situation.

“You need to get specific as you can about the situation. You know well if the kids say I’m being bullied…well what does that mean?” West asks. “Is someone threatening you? What is the situation?”

More about Cyber-bullying

  • ARTICLE: Popular app blocked at Sarasota schools due to cyberbullying potential
  • ARTICLE: Two girls arrested in cyber-bullying death

More about Bullying

  • ARTICLE: Study shows effects of bullying years later
  • ARTICLE: Two girls arrested in cyber-bullying death
  • ARTICLE: Bullying prevention month
  • ARTICLE: Bradenton girl, 16, crusades against potentially deadly bullying

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http://www.mysuncoast.com/news/bullying-a-concern-for-parents-as-back-to-school-draws/article_514a96b8-182b-11e4-b46d-0017a43b2370.html

at 12:30 am

School Director Prepares for Bus Bullying – WJBF

Columbia County, GA -
School buses in Columbia County will begin transporting more than 14,000 students twice a day starting next week. As directors complete routes, they are also working on ways to prevent bullying on the bus.

A majority of the buses have no cameras or monitors on board. In most cases, there is no camera footage to look back on, but the school will accept student phone video in investigations. When a bullying incident happens, the bus driver must turn in a form to the principal for disciplinary action to be taken.

As the school buses begin to roll out next week in Columbia County, drivers are making last minute preparations. One important item all bus drivers must check off their list before the year starts is training on how to handle bullying.

School Transportation Director Dewayne Porter said all drivers must watch a tutorial before school starts and participate in meetings once a month starting at the beginning of the year.

“We try to give some real world examples based on the calls and concerns that I have received in my office each day and use that as a training tool to train new drivers and veteran drivers on how to react and responds,” said Porter.

With more than 200 buses in the county, only one bus has cameras, so when it comes down to bullying, much of the responsibility falls on the bus driver.

“Our drivers are trained to turn that into the school on a disciplinary form and allow the school to investigate it, provided the driver does recognize it and knows that it’s happening,” said Porter.

Columbia County adopted the state’s policies on bullying back in 2011, but the principal remains the key component for action when they receive these forms.

“If we know it, we may move the child that’s being accused of bullying to the front seat for a period of time, the principal may choose to do something different in conjunction with that,” said Porter.

The transportation department has already has requirements, such as placing girls and boys on opposite sides and placing students from youngest grade level in the front to oldest in the back.

Porter said the county hasn’t had any major problems in past years and he’s hoping to keep it the same this year.

Columbia County does not have any plans to buy additional cameras for buses right now. Each camera system costs around $1,500 and without any substantial reason to get them, Porter said this money can be better used in the classroom.

http://www.wjbf.com/story/26154475/school-director-prepares-for-bus-bullying

July 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm

WIFC calls on students to Stand UP against bullying

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) — WIFC’s morning show is challenging students across central Wisconsin to Stand UP against bullying this school year.

It’s part of a program aimed at breaking the cycle of abuse in schools between students. WIFC morning show host Stacy Cole says they’d heard enough heartbreaking stories of bullying that they wanted to make a difference. “We’ve got a voice, and it’s time to use it for something like this. And of course we can talk about the stories, but can we actually do something, can we get into the kids minds and say ‘this is wrong’. School’s coming up, start thinking about what you can do to prevent it.”

People who want to take part can sign a pledge to stand up against bullies and not take part when it’s going on. “Even one action, not laughing when a bully does something, that’s one action. So it’s about taking that pledge that you’ll do your best to not allow it.” Cole says it’s a simple pledge than anyone can get behind.

WIFC morning show host Dave Kallaway says their message and pledge will come with a reminder. “In return, we’re giving everyone these bracelets, these anti-bullying bracelets. And so we’ll have a limited quantity of those every day out at the fair. And this will be the start of the campaign, it’s going to continue after the fair for high school football games, and a bunch more, but it will get started at the fair.”

You can sign up for the pledge and a bracelet at the WIFC booth near the East Gate entrance at the Wisconsin Valley Fair after 5pm all week.

http://wsau.com/news/articles/2014/jul/30/wifc-calls-on-students-to-stand-up-against-bullying/

at 6:30 pm

Bullying: State law aims at improving system, but many local districts already …

Local districts previously have taken such action. And there have been attempts to raise awareness. In Geneva School District 304, there were anti-bullying videos created by choir members at Geneva Middle School South and North. In Kaneland, Kindness in Kaneland Week was celebrated.

In St. Charles, Schlomann said the legislation can provide some more clarity. He said the district works to identify bullying, and “we take it seriously and try to investigate.” Sometimes, he said, it can be a misunderstanding, but often, it is bullying. And there also is the matter of bullying in cyberspace, “and we are charged also to deal with that.”

In Batavia, Newkirk said that there are efforts made to be sure procedures are in place and to be sure the district is in compliance with the new law. He talked of the district’s PBIS system, which stands for positive behavior intervention system. And he said the district is aware that bullying instances do occur.

Linda Chapa-LaVia, D-Aurora, was one of the bill’s House sponsors. She said that if school districts already are in compliance with the law, “that’s great.” She said it was put into place because not all school districts have a bully policy in place with a restorative antidote.

• • •

Despite such efforts, there is controversy when it comes to bullying. District 303 saw two lawsuits alleging bullying filed in 2013 and 2014.

In Kaneland, the Kindness Campaign movement gained strength last year, but in 2012, a group called Knights Against Bullying packed a school board meeting and demanded change after saying bullying allegations had gone unresolved and that situations were continuing.

Soon after the Knights Against Bullying meeting, a task force on bullying was formed in the Kaneland district, including one community member – Leigh Ann Reusche, who was with Knights Against Bullying. She is the director of the Kindness Campaign.

But the task force no longer is in existence. Dee said that is disappointing, and a community voice is needed. Schuler said the future of the task force was not clear. He said such work has “really shifted to our internal groups that are working to implement that.”

“We would reconvene the task force if a need existed,” Schuler said, adding that the task force “wasn’t a response necessarily to community feedback.”

Know more

To view anti-bullying videos at Geneva Middle School North and South, visit www.geneva304.org/Anti-Bullying-Videos.aspx and www.geneva304.org/Anti-BullyingVideo-June2014.aspx.

http://www.kcchronicle.com/2014/07/25/bullying-state-law-aims-at-improving-system-but-many-local-districts-already-in-compliance/aj6pijd/