Eden Prairie Bullying and Harassment Expert Susan Strauss

There’s a difference between bullying and harassment—and it’s key for parents to understand it.
Author Susan Strauss is a certified harassment and bullying consultant.

For 14-year-old Star Bandy, of Eden Prairie, the bullying was relentless, kids taunted her at school, wouldn’t sit with her at lunch and played mean jokes. The bullying didn’t stop there. The negative messages followed her home in the form of texts and phone calls. It’s exactly that type of behavior local schools are trying to prevent. Through a series of videos, presentations and events, Eden Prairie Schools are working to eliminate bullying and harassment from their classrooms and hallways. Leaders in the Eastern Carver County School District are also focusing on positive behavior as a way to stem change. Though schools are working toward solutions, Eden Prairie author Susan Strauss encourages families to dig into the topic at home. “You don’t have to be the direct recipient of the behavior to be traumatized by it,” Strauss says. Strauss’s book, Sexual Harassment and Bullying: A Guide to Keeping Kids Safe and Holding Schools Accountable (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers) is being released in paperback this month. The book not only focuses on the difference between bullying and harassment—which is illegal—but how parents can advocate for their kids and report problems to the schools. At Eden Prairie Central Middle School, Star Bandy and her Girl Scout troop created YouTube videos in an effort to increase awareness of how kids can change the course of bullying (their story was featured in the April 2013 issue of Southwest Metro Magazine). The videos were just one part of a larger anti-bullying campaign in the schools organized by the Eden Prairie Disability Awareness Committee, a community organization sponsored by the district. As Tina Houck, now assistant director of mental health partnerships for Intermediate School District 287, worked on the campaign last year, she realized that students often didn’t report bullying because they didn’t think adults could do anything. “As adults we have to do a better job of creating safe places so they can tell us what’s going on,” Houck says. She encourages parents to watch for clues and sudden behavior changes, a kid who’s late going to school or coming home, moody or using avoidance tactics. If there is a bullying problem at school or a cyber-bullying problem, she says, the schools want to know about it so they can interrupt the cycle. In nearby Eastern Carver County Schools, efforts focused on rewarding students for positive behavior and staff handed out tickets for good behavior that were later included in a drawing. In addition to an anti-bullying campaign at Pioneer Ridge Middle School that features a “Pink Out” the last Friday of every month, the district focuses on character education curriculum that covers friendships and creating good relationships. During the “pink out” students wear matching T-shirts as a positive visual to show classmates they’re not alone in fighting bullying. Strauss also encourages parents to keep an open dialogue with their kids and talk about school climate. Younger kids, she says, can talk about any instances of name calling, teasing and unwanted touch. For older students, she says, discussions can also center on sexual touch and comments they hear regarding race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and religion. If the bullying does center on the latter, Strauss says the situation becomes one of harassment and violates a student’s civil rights. The schools, she says, are then required to remedy the situation and create a plan to prevent the harassment from occurring again. “Everything ‘student misconduct’ is labeled bullying, when a good share is harassment based on  student’s protected class,” she says. Here’s how she breaks down the difference between bullying, harassment and teasing: Teasing is usually playful; it happens once or twice and often is reciprocal.Bullying is mean-spirited and meant to degrade and hurt the other person. Bullying, for example, is behavior that could be based on looks, smarts or having the right shoes.Harassment may be commentary, name-calling and the like based on the particulars of a students’ protected class, comments that include sexual-orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, disability or religion. Harassment determinations are based on the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Federal law. Either way, she says, negative behaviors must be handled, not ignored. “It’s not the parent’s responsibility to differentiate between the two, but parents have to know because they have to be the advocate for their kid,” Strauss says. Strauss’s book is available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Visit straussconsulting.net for a 30 percent discount on the book, along with tips for parents and students. Contact Strauss at susan@straussconsulting.net.