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Debbie Dujanovic ReportingViewers are responding to our investigation saying what we've uncovered is a big problem across Utah. Parents are telling us lapses in supervision are leading to aggressive behavior, bullying and injuries. Should more be done to stop it? Tonight, how school officials are responding.
A child snapping, whipping a jump rope 33 times. The incident lasts eight minutes during a school recess. A boy who can't get free. These are just a few of the ongoing, random acts at nine of the 10 schools we surveyed. State School Superintendent Patti Harrington watched our video with two of her staff.
Patti Harrington, Superintendent of Public Instruction: "Hitting, pushing, shoving, kicking whipping, someone with a jump rope would all violate almost any elementary school playground rules that I'm aware of."
Verne Larsen, Safe & Drug-Free Schools: "Hopefully something that can come out of this when aired is what are we are doing in our district, what are we doing in our school, can we be doing more."
In a Survey USA poll, 66-percent of Salt Lake area parents say monitoring of school playgrounds is very important to prevent exactly the kind of behavior our cameras caught on tape. But at nine schools there were clear lapses. Children on recess tossed to the ground, no adult stopping it. One girl keeps her jump rope even after wrapping it around another kid’s neck.
At times those on duty seem preoccupied.
Patti Harrington: "I would want to have a word with those playground supervisors to say, ‘Your job isn't to stand and talk, your job is to walk around the area making sure kids are safe.’"
Each school is unique, but classroom ratios don't always apply on the playground. A lack of funding can mean two monitors for hundreds of kids. The head of Utah's public schools says in the examples she saw, more should've been done.
Patti Harrington: "Then you can sit down with those kids and talk about sensitivity, understanding. I get choked up too easily Debbie, because I love kids. The kinds of things that make them understand, 'Oh, that's how John feels when I do that to him -- they need that."
We observed schools in three different districts. Each provided proof that plenty of programs are in place to deal with the behavior we saw. Two districts got defensive.
The Jordan District chose to attack our motives for doing this story. The spokeswoman said, “I have major concerns. How research based is this?”
The Salt Lake District spokesman accused us of targeting minority schools, sarcastically calling it a “lovely story.”
The Granite District is taking a pro-active approach to this story. We showed them some of our video.
Sue McGhie-Troff, Granite School District: "I wouldn't at this point label it as bullying, but I would label it as something we need to be concerned about, that we certainly need to intervene with."
Reluctant to judge the behavior from our video - they will address playground supervision with principals.
Martin Bates, Granite School District: “I’m interested in kids growing up in a safe, healthy environment. And schools ought to be a safe, healthy place.”
What one adult views as bullying another may call aggressive; some may even say it's child's play. But consider the perspective of a criminal prosecutor.
Sim Gill, Salt Lake City Prosecutor: “If you’re an adult and someone walks up to you, they physically batter you, they use unlawful force against – we prosecute people for that. We’d be hard pressed to rationalize it away with the force it’s happening with in our schools.”
Adults can spend a lot of time debating child behavior, but are we doing enough to stop it? Wednesday night we look at it through a child's eyes.