She hoped to start that cooperation Saturday with a town hall meeting that brought representatives from Cobb’s schools, police and community centers together. She said the meeting was called not only because of the recent elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 people dead, but after a recent incident in her south Cobb district.
Morgan said a girl who attends a local middle school, which she declined to name, was “jumped” by other students away from school after she was bullied on campus and on the school bus.
“I want to find a way that law enforcement can work directly with schools,” Morgan said after the two-hour meeting at the South Cobb Community Center in Mableton. “Because what we’ve heard repeatedly is incidents may happen in school, but they may finish in the neighborhood.”
Morgan said she is looking at filing legislation that would help make police agencies aware of incidents that happen at school, which could help them prevent violence before it happens.
“We really can prevent some of these incidents by communicating better, making sure that parents know about the resources that are available and that we are putting policies in place that allow for greater communication between agencies,” she said.
Panelist Leslie Walker, manager of the community center that hosted the town hall as well as the South Cobb Recreation Center in Austell, said that with social media and text messaging, it doesn’t take long for bullying to get out of control.
“It gets intense, it escalates really quickly and it needs to be handled really quickly before it festers,” he said.
Cobb Police Capt. Jeff Adcock, commander of the southwest Cobb Precinct 2, said more has to happen at home to address the causes of violence. He said the military uses shooting video games with new soldiers to desensitize them before they go into battle.
“I think it has the same effect on the community,” he said.
Jeff Dess, with Cobb School District’s prevention and intervention center, heard from several parents who said their children were being bullied in school, with some saying not enough was being done to stop it.
Dess said it was important to distinguish between tattling or snitching, in which a kid may rat out another student because of reasons like jealousy, and legitimate incidents that need to be reported and documented.
“They need to understand the categories and the circumstances when you tell,” Dess said. “Whether you’re inappropriately touched, or whether you’re concerned about your own safety or somebody else’s safety, that’s not a snitch. But in order to tell and report, they have to feel safe and there has to be a relationship of trust.”
Creating a way to report without kids feeling like they are snitching can be difficult, Dess said. Some schools have boxes that allow kids to drop in notes about their safety concerns, while others allow reporting on their websites.
“We’re always looking for creative ways to report,” he said.
Anthony Testman of Austell, who said his third- grade daughter is bullied at Varner Elementary School, said he enjoyed the opportunity to have the dialogue.
“I thought it was very informative,” he said. “Any time you have your state representative and community stakeholders in a joint discussion, it’s very positive.”
Edith Dean of Austell said she moved her first- grade son to Colonial Hills Christian School in Lithia Springs because she was worried about security in public schools, but now he is bullied there. She said it is important for schools, elected leaders and churches to come together.
“We have to trust where we send our kids,” she said.
Morgan said she was pleased with the diverse group of around 40 people who attended the meeting.
“We had a lot of individuals who were older, don’t have school-age children, but were just as concerned about the safety of kids in the community and at schools,” Morgan said. “And then very concerned parents, understandably so, who want to make sure that their kids are protected.”