Educators may lose key weapon in fight against bullying

TPD Gang Intervention Unit at Sahuaro High School

Educators may lose key weapon in fight against bullying

CREATED Feb 13, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) --    TPD's unit that educates students about gangs and bullying is in danger of being disbanded. The Gang Intervention Unit received word -- months ago --the program could be the latest budget cut casualty. Now TUSD is concerned it's losing a valuable partner in its  efforts to battle cyberbullying.

KGUN9 has reported on the growing problem of cyberbullying and its connection to 4 teen suicides in Tucson alone. Schools have been trying to deal with the issue --- and for the past year and a half, some have relied on the Gang Intervention Unit to help educate their students and parents. Some in TUSD say it is not a good time to drop the program.

"We don't solve the problem by cutting the education piece," said Sahuaro High School principal Sam Giangardella said this is the first year that the TPD's Gang Intervention Unit was invited to Sahuaro High School and he's hoping it's not the last. "We wanted to continue into next year. Also,  we wanted to do some presentations for parents and without the unit we wouldn't be able to do that."

Principal Giangardella is already seeing some success from these anti-bullying sessions. Feedback has been good and some students have stepped up to help.

Holly Colonna oversees the bullying and cyberbullying programs in TUSD. KGUN9 wanted to know how valuable the Gang Intervention Unit is to TUSD. Colonna answered, "I think any time a prevention program comes into a school with the credibility and the huge amount of professionalism that TPD comes with is valuable."

Colonna believes since bullying and anti-bullying is a societal issue -- schools need to rely on the city's many social organizations to tackle this complex and multi-faceted problem. "They can help us help the kids. That's what school is all about. Schools can't do this alone," said Colonna.

She says helping parents and students understand that police have an arsenal of powerful tools is a critical component of TUSD's efforts to battle bullying. "They're the good guys here. They're a wealth of information. They're going to help you with things that are going on. They're going to give you the law information -- that correct and up-to-date. They're a great partner."

Sgt. Gary Parrish said the unit is in limbo right now. More schools are already requesting presentations for next school year, but principals are being told they can't mark their calendars yet.
TPD's Public Information Officer Matt Rondstat tells KGUN9 the budget has not been finalized yet and no final decisions have been made regarding the unit's status.