Anti-Bullying Backlash By Parents Over 'Kindness Workshop' In Pennsylvania

A "Kindness Workshop" to teach students to get along has Pennsylvania parents angry enough to pull their children out of the district. The anti-bullying workshop involved middle school students who were told by teachers to step into a circle if they were gay, poor, an immigrant, or had a parent who had ever been arrested. Parents contend that any bullies in the room were provided with ample ammunition to tease those who stepped into the circle, revealing their secrets and personal details.

The anti-bullying kindness workshop was held at the West Allegheny Middle School in Pittsburgh last week. Some of the students who participated in the workshop fled the room in tears. In spite of a massive amount of backlash from parents, teachers are still defending their decision to hold the event. Many people feel that bullying is a significant issue which must addressed and dealt with by school staff. Some parents still teach the same "sticks and stones" adage they heard as a child and firmly believe morality and character lessons should be taught at home. The ranks of homeschooling students have swelled in the United States in recent years.

At least some of the 13-year-old students were given masks to wear as they entered a kindness workshop circle and offered up private information, such as drug and alcohol abuse by loved ones, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

The following are examples the qualifying questions West Allegheny Middle School students were asked during the anti-bullying workshop.

"You or someone close to you identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender."

"You or your family has ever worried about not having enough money."

"You or someone in your family is from another country."

Other questions posed during the Pittsburgh middle school workshop included questions about the student's religious beliefs and about any disabilities he or she may have.

School supervisors said a letter had been sent to parents explaining the workshop beforehand, and that students were told they did not have to participate. Although the school sent a note home to parents about the anti-bullying workshop, the nature of the questions which would be given to the young teens were not provided in the notice, according to a Daily Mail report. Due to the intense backlash, a meeting was held at the school with parents on Thursday. Journalists were reportedly not allowed inside the 3-hour meeting.

"The damage they've done to our kids. How do you fix it? How do you fix what's already been done? All they're doing is covering themselves," concerned parent Marie-Noelle Briggs told the media after the meeting with school officials. "I never would expect a middle school to ask 13-year-old kids if their parent was in jail, if they're same-sex, if they're having financial issues."

A woman who has a nephew attending the school told reporters outside the meeting that she asked teachers and administrators to do the same thing that was asked of the children, to put on a mask and walk into a circle and openly declare all of their problems and fears.

Some parents feel that not only did the school violate their child's right to privacy, but stripped the entire family of the same right as well. Robert Mielnicki, a Pittsburgh attorney, revealed that multiple parents have contacted him stating their intention to sue the school district for the privacy violation.

School board president Debbie Mirich said teachers and administrators are looking forward to continuing the open dialogue with parents to address the "very serious issue" of bullying. Mirich cited the "unintentional acts" that some students engage in which "marginalize different groups" of students in the school. Any "bully" who attended the workshop surely went home with ample juicy bits of gossip to share on Facebook about their peers who stepped into the circle, if they were so inclined.

Administrators at the school claimed similar kindness workshops were conducted at other area schools and stated that the material was created by Public Allies Pittsburgh, a local non-profit group. Jessica Ruffin, the director of the group, told the media that the workshop materials were not designed to be used with children and added that the school did not seek permission from the organization to utilize the kindness workshop curriculum.

What do you think about the anti-bullying workshop? Is bullying more of a problem now than when it was in years past?

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