Education News

Houston Schools Target Adult Bullying

The American Federation of Teachers says program is first of its kind.

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Wretha Thomas says school support staff, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians, often face continual harassment and intimidation on the job.

 

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Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, recognizes Wretha Thomas, president of the local union for school support staff. For years, Thomas has pushed HISD to do something to combat adult bullying in the workplace.

Imagine you’re getting a cup of coffee in the break room at the office.

Then your coworker starts teasing you and cursing. And this happens almost every day.

“Hey Bob, nice suspenders! Hey Bob! Hey, fat***!”

This online ad might sound like harassment.It’s also considered adult bullying.

And Houston school workers say they get treated like this too often.

Now the HISD administration is taking a stand — that it’s a bully free zone for both students and grown-ups.

Wretha Thomas is president of the Houston Educational Support Personnel. For years, she’s pushed HISD to adopt a policy against adult bullying.

“I represent the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers, the maintenance and the custodians — all blue collar workers, they’re non-teaching department,” she said at a recent ceremony at the HISD headquarters.

Thomas says those workers often deal with repeated harassment and humiliation.

Now they’ll have an extra layer of protection.

In August, the Houston school board changed its employee code of conduct to explicitly say workplace bullying is unacceptable.

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Weingarten calls HISD’s new adult bullying program the first of its kind in the country

“It’s saying that we’re not going to tolerate the bullying from coworkers, we’re not going to tolerate bullying from administration, we’re not going to tolerate bullying from supervisors. And that’s no joke,” Thomas said.

The new program has gotten national attention.

“So this is a really important policy and I think it can be a model for the nation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

She considers it the first of its kind in the country.

“What they have done is to say is that we value respect and we’re going to formalize that value system in policy and we’re going to call it stop bullying.”

State and federal laws are supposed protect workers from discrimination and harassment.

But school leaders say this policy goes further. It defines what bullying in the workplace looks like it and how to handle allegations.

Juliet Stipeche, president of the HISD school board, notes that they’ve broadened and updated the bullying policy for students, most recently in 2011.

“I think to be consistent, to show that bullying is unacceptable both for our students and our employees, we wanted to make it consistent,” Stipeche says.

She said next, employees will be trained on how to recognize and prevent bullying.

Already the staff is applauding the move. Their cheer at the recognition ceremony: “No more bullying!”

 

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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