PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Parents in the West Allegheny School District say an anti-bullying workshop backfired and gave bullies even more ammunition.
While the district says it should have involved parents more from the beginning, it also points out that exercise is similar to programs used across the country. Some of it developed at Stanford University in 1985.
It sent out a letter to parents saying that different versions of the workshop have been done by Hope Alliance, Public Allies, Youth Communities and The FreeChild Project, among others.
The district also points to a video of students at Missouri’s Rockwood Middle School wearing masks and stepping forward when asked questions.
The West Allegheny District even says it did the same workshop seven years, without controversy.
But this time around, it has some parents and students emotional and upset.
“The questions that were asked, I would never expect a middle school to ask 13-year-olds if your parents have ever been in jail, if your parents are same sex, if they’re having financial issues,” said Marie Noelle Briggs, a parent in the West Allegheny District.
Some parents are angry over an activity similar to one outlined by The FreeChild Project in Washington state.
Founder Adam Fletcher said, “I don’t know exactly what happened in Pittsburgh, but I do know that that safe space is essential for this to work.”
Fletcher did not play a role in the workshop at West Allegheny.
“It’s also really important to have parents’ investment,” said Fletcher. “We have to work with parents as allies.”
And that’s exactly what the superintendent in West Allegheny says they would do differently.
“Had the workshop involved parents in the planning, I don’t think we would be here,” said Superintendent Jerri Lynn Lippert.
Among the question asked in West Allegheny: Has your family ever worried about not having enough money? Are you or someone close to you gay, lesbian or transgendered?
Fletcher from The FreeChild Project uses similar questions, and he says there’s a purpose behind it.
“One of the parts of being real is acknowledging within ourselves both adversity that we face and the assets that we have, so “Crossing The Line,” [the name of his program], is important for doing that, again, in a healthy supportive way,” said Fletcher.
He says a safe and supportive environment is crucial to making it work.
He says they’ve done his “Crossing The Line” program in about 350 middle and high schools.