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Column: Oberg-Peters broadens debate about bullying

Nicole Oberg-Peters earned the September 2010 Golden Quill for her letter about bullying behavior by teachers.

Say the word bullying, and people typically think of the playground and school hallways. Bullying, in the traditional sense, is when one kid picks on another.

Nicole Oberg-Peters knows bullying is much more.

She took a risk, REaders' Board members noted, when she wrote the Republican Eagle a letter to the editor about bullying by teachers. Someone could have retaliated subtly or overtly against her or her family.

Fortunately, that hasn't happened, she said.

Abusive behavior

Bullies intimidate. Their abusive behavior comprises repeated acts over time involving a real or perceived imbalance of power -- be that social and/or physical power.

The attacks sometimes are emotional and verbal, which is the type of bullying Oberg-Peters has encountered or heard about in the adult-child setting at school.

Board members awarded Oberg-Peters the Golden Quill in appreciation for a thoughtful letter that compels readers to acknowledge that bullying occurs everywhere -- in the classroom, at church, in the work place, at home and in the neighborhood -- and it involves all ages.

Oberg-Peters said one unexpected benefit of having her letter published Sept. 18-19 has been public response.

"A complete stranger told me about a child at a school in Prescott," she said. "I also had a couple parents approach me at school about these issues. I also have a coworker with a child in Red Wing having a problem."

Ten days after her letter appeared, a 13-year-old Texas boy killed himself after suffering 18 months of taunts, harassment and physical abuse by fellow students. The flood of media attention -- headlines, websites, talk shows -- and reports of similar cases have some people declaring America has a bullying epidemic.

Some measures are in place.

For example, local schools have policies against bullying. Most employers prohibit harassment.

More are needed.

Minnesota lawmakers crafted anti-bullying legislation last session and, since the governor vetoed the final language, the matter will be back on the House and Senate floors in 2011. The spate of child suicides has Congress talking about national efforts.

In the meantime, people like Oberg-Peters are doing their part to raise awareness. Bullying isn't limited to academic settings or to children. Keep that in mind as you read her letter reprinted here.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson is news director with RiverTown Multimedia. 

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