Parents Can Help Prevent Bullying

By California State PTA Health & Community Concerns Commission

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Bullying is a serious issue at home and in school, and parents and caring adults can play pivotal roles in creating healthy, safe school and community climates.

In a 2019 publication, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that one out of five students in the U.S. said they had been bullied. Researchers have also found that bullied students are more likely to take a weapon to school, get involved in physical fights, and suffer from anxiety and depression, health problems, and mental health problems. They also suffer academically (especially high-achieving black and Latinx students). Research suggests that schools where students report a more severe bullying climate score worse on standardized assessments than schools with a better climate.

Five Tips For Parents To Help Prevent Bullying
Parents and guardians are among a school’s best allies in bullying prevention:

  • Talk with and listen to your children every day. Ask questions about their school day, including experiences on the way to and from school, lunch, and recess. Ask about their peers. Children who feel comfortable sharing experiences with their parents before they are involved in bullying are more likely to involve them after.
  • Spend time at school, especially during recess. Schools can lack the resources to provide all students individualized attention during “free” time, like recess. Volunteer to coordinate games and activities that encourage children to interact with their peers. 
  • Set a good example. Children are observing when you get angry at a waiter, another driver, etc. Model effective communication techniques, especially when they are present. As puts it, “Any time you speak to another person in a mean or abusive way, you’re teaching your child that bullying is okay.”
  • Create healthy anti-bullying habits. Starting as young as possible, coach your children on both, what not to do (push, tease, and be mean to others) and what to do (be kind, empathize, and take turns). Also coach your child on what to do if someone is mean to him or to another (get an adult, tell the bully to stop, walk away and ignore the bully).
  • Make sure your child understands that bullying is not okay. Explicitly explain what it is and that it’s not normal or tolerable for them to bully, be bullied, or stand by and watch other kids be bullied.

Parents Can Help Stop Online Bullying As Well
Kids may not always recognize teasing as bullying. Some kids also may be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk to their parents about it.

That’s why it’s important to talk about online and digital behavior before your child starts interacting with others online and with devices, as this article from Common Sense Media suggests. 

Additional Resources

Click here to access the California State PTA’s bullying prevention resources, which include advice about preparing your kid for going online or getting a cell phone, and advice about what to do if you know he or she has been bullied online.

Click here to access National PTA bullying prevention resources and an informative podcast that includes strategies for supporting children who are bullied and offers advice to parents who have learned that their child is doing the bullying.

PACER provides innovative resources for students, parents, educators, and others related to bullying prevention, including a report on the latest statistics.

The website also provides valuable information on bullying prevention.

Do you have more questions?  Email

Disaster Preparedness – Protecting Those We Love

by California State PTA Vice President for Health & Community Concerns, Derby Pattengill

We recently highlighted September’s National Preparedness Month, a great reason to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time. The 2021 theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” 

In California, we certainly have had our share of emergencies this year. In our mission to positively impact the lives of children and youth, the Health and Community Concerns commission of the California State PTA have gathered for you a number of helpful resources to help prepare for a potential wildfire, earthquake, flood or any of the other natural disasters that can take place in our state.  

If you are located in an area of California where earthquakes are prevalent, your school can take part in International ShakeOut Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of October. California schools should know how to protect themselves during an earthquake and the Great ShakeOut is a perfect time to plan a one-minute earthquake drill. Learn more about the Great ShakeOut and how to participate here.

In addition, here are four key steps in preparing for a disaster or emergency:

  1. Learn your risks and responses. Stay informed. Here are two great resources: California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Ready Campaign
  2. Make a plan.  It is important to make a family emergency plan that can be put into action as soon as disaster strikes.  Make sure to include plans for children, seniors, disabled, and don’t forget pets! Here are some links to plans for wildfires, earthquakes, excessive heat and floods.
  3. Build a supply kit. A supply kit is a must when planning for potential disasters. You need to make sure you and your family have the necessary food and supplies to sustain you until the power returns or help arrives.  It is also important to keep the kit maintained by keeping food/water fresh and supplies working properly.  It is typically best to store the kit, along with any pet supplies, in a closet or the basement. Here is a Recommended Supplies List.

Get involved. Find opportunities to support community preparedness. There are many ways to get involved before disaster strikes.  So, ask yourself, “How can I help?” Well, here are some links.   Citizen Corps, Community Emergency Response Team, Red Cross, Neighborhood Watch, Fire Corps.


by Mary Perry, California State PTA Board of Managers

All over California, the back-to-school ritual has begun. This year, of course, that ritual is so different. For many students and families, it’s the first time in more than a year that in-person school has even happened.

We hear a multitude of opinions about how to keep schools safe. Governor Newsom issued an executive order calling for universal vaccinations and/or Covid testing at every school. We also have a minority of people agitating against taking safety precautions at all – no vaccines, no masking, no social distancing.

Does it all have you feeling anxious and confused?

There are some great resources available to help you and others in your PTA conquer that anxiety. 

Thankfully, the California Department of Education, the California Department of Public Health, and the U.S. Education Department are all providing solid, research-based information that can guide your actions. And in every case they have created resources directed to parents that are clear, relevant, and informative. We are trying to collect many of those resources on our California State PTA Covid 19 page, but frankly it’s hard to keep up with all that is happening. So in this blog I just want to give you the latest.

Get Vaccinated
The California Department of Education is going all in on encouraging every school staff member, every parent, and every student age 12 and older to get vaccinated. On August 11, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond hosted this Facebook Live session to do just that. [link: ]  The main advice: make a date to vaccinate!

Research on COVID and Kids
One of the most informative (and comforting) pieces of information I’ve seen is from the California Department of Public Health. Dr. Naomi Bardach is the lead for the CA Safe Schools for All project and website. (The parent page is also available here in Spanish.) She recently summarized research that is giving health experts confidence about schools reopening. Her key points:

  • Children get COVID19 less often and are less ill than adults
  •  Children most often get COVID19 from a household adult, even when attending school
  •  Schools can operate safely and successfully when key safety measures – such as masks — are in place

Dr. Bardach also explained why kids in general are less likely to get Covid-19 or to get a serious case if they do become infected. Our bodies have these ACE2 receptors, which act like doorways to let the virus into our cells. Adults have developed a lot of these receptors but children have fewer, and the younger a child is the fewer receptors or doorways they have. The virus just doesn’t have as many places where it can enter a child’s body.

Return to School Roadmap
The US Education Department has created a Return to School Roadmap, with a web-page specifically for parents. Their Parent Checklist provides straightforward advice on how parents can make sure their kids are safe as school reopens. The key items on that list include:

  • Make a plan for eligible children to get vaccinated
  • Talk to your school about health and safety protocols
  • If your child isn’t eligible yet for a vaccine, talk with them about strategies to keep them safe at school
  • Make a plan to access safe transportation to and from school
  • Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s needs

A crucial concern for kids and adults is the impact that the pandemic has had on our mental health, sense of security, and trust in the future. Those social and emotional issues, and what we all can do to address them, will be the subject of another article soon.

Until then, get informed, stay calm, and make a date to vaccinate!

Protecting Our Children from Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking of youth has been escalating over the past decade and is prevalent in all major California cities. Sexual and labor exploitation are problems that touch our schools, as victims can be students or their family members. Recruiters can be people they know, relatives or people they meet online. Youth can also be trafficked while attending school and recruitment can happen on campus, making this a critical school safety issue.

Youth from the foster care systems and those who are fleeing abuse are at the greatest risk of commercial sexual exploitation, but young people of any background can meet a sex trafficker online, on a bus or at the mall. The trauma can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help.

Human trafficking education is now a required component of the health education framework for California public schools. The Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act of 2018 mandate specifies that human trafficking education is provided at least once in middle and at least once in high school. But it is equally important to discuss this issue at home.

Technology Enables Sex Trafficking

Traffickers can use social media and gaming sites to recruit unsuspecting youth. Predators can learn about our kids through their social feeds then manipulate them through fake profiles. Pedophiles and sex buyers have their own social media site in the dark web to share photos and tips on how to go undetected when buying children for sex.

Apps and sites like KIK, Instagram and Snapchat and video games like Fortnite make it easy for predators to target youth while hiding behind a wall of anonymity. By sharing and chatting with strangers, youth can come in contact with the wrong person who says just the right thing to ensnare them.

What Parents Can Do…

Ask “What if” Questions

Role playing is a powerful way to teach kids how to handle difficult situations.  Discuss potential situations that could occur in different scenarios like sports practice, walking to a friend’s house, outdoor festivals, Halloween, the movie theater, etc. These “what would you do” conversations can take place at the dinner table or on the drive to school, and may help ease apprehension about the topic.

Ask questions like:

  • “What would you do if a good-looking older guy came up to you and said he thought you were pretty enough to be a model? Would you give him your phone number?”
  • “Is it okay for a stranger to take pictures of you?”
  • “Do you know anyone at school that has an older boyfriend?”
  • “Have any of your friends ever talked about getting paid to go on dates?”
  • “Has anyone ever sent you a picture that made you feel uncomfortable?”
  • “What would you do if someone sent you an inappropriate picture or asked you for one?

The conversation can also continue with a talk about internet safety and “stranger danger”.

Know the Signs

Traffickers often pose as friends or boyfriends and groom their victims prior to commercially sexually exploiting them. By informing children about the commonly tactics used by traffickers to recruit victims, such as dating “Romeo pimps”, peer recruiting and fake modeling or acting jobs, we can help reduce their vulnerability.

Know your Child’s Friends and Whereabouts

Install a safety app on your phones. There are many safety apps available for IOS and Android phones. Here are some apps to consider.

Educate Yourself

Know How to Respond

What Schools Can Do…

  1. Trauma-informed training on commercial sexual exploitation of children for school staff
  2. Referral protocols for school staff
  3. Human trafficking education for students and supports groups for high-risk youth
  4. Abuse education for elementary schools
  5. Family information nights
  6. Posters and awareness campaigns to encourage youth to seek help

Learn more from the U.S. Department of Education: Human Trafficking in America’s Schools

Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation: Training Tool for School Administrators




Best Practices for Handling Phishing and Ransomware

Both email-phishing scams and crypto ransomware/malware are increasingly common and can have devastating impacts on businesses and non-profit associations of all sizes. As a non-profit association, PTA can be vulnerable to these types of cyber crimes at all levels and, in fact, we have heard reports of email-phishing scams happening to local leaders.

Email-phishing scams are typically fraudulent email messages appearing to come from legitimate enterprises (e.g., your PTA treasurer or president, your Internet service provider, your bank). These messages usually direct you to a spoofed website or otherwise get you to divulge private information such as bank account information or account passwords. The perpetrators then use this private information to commit identity theft or trick you to wire money.

Ransomware/malware is a virus that installs covertly on the victim’s computer system and encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. Often malware is triggered by downloading files or clicking links from untrustworthy sources which appear to be legitimate.

If you get an email from a fellow PTA officer asking to wire funds, do not send money.

Establish communication “backchannels” such as text message or phone calls to verify the authenticity of the request. Additionally, remember to keep your personal and PTA computer systems and firewalls up-to-date to minimize the potential for viruses to inflect your system with malware.

Additional Resources:

Talking to Children About School and Community Shootings

Just like adults, children and teenagers are better able to cope with upsetting news when they understand more about an event and how it might impact them. Often what children and teens need the most is to have someone they trust listen to their questions and concerns, accept their feelings, and be there for them.

Tips from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement on how to talk to your child:

  • Don’t worry about knowing the perfect thing to say
  • Listen to your child’s thoughts and concerns
  • Answer their questions with simple direct and honest responses. Remember that answers and reassurance should be at the level of the child’s understanding
  • Provide appropriate reassurance and support
  • Know when to seek outside help such as when your child continues to be upset for several days or seems unable to recover from their fears or is having trouble in school or home or with their friends.

National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement flier: Talking to Children About Terrorist Attacks and School and Community Shootings in the News


Impact of Heat on Student Health and Performance

It may technically be autumn, but many communities in California are still experiencing a heatwave, and the number and severity of extreme heat events is increasing. Poorly maintained and older HVAC systems in schools may not be able to respond to higher outdoor temperatures, putting our kid’s health and school performance at risk.

Children are more sensitive to the effects of heat, according to a bulletin from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Children have:

  • Higher physical activity levels
  • Higher core body temperatures
  • Higher metabolic rates
  • Larger surface to body mass ratings

These factors can increase a child’s chance of experiencing heat stress. High temperatures and humidity can have adverse impacts on physical education by triggering coughs and asthma. Heat impacts cognitive function including reaction time, information processing, memory and reasoning, effecting a child’s performance in school.

Cooling the air during extreme heat events can be limited by aging infrastructure and high energy bills on tight school budgets!  Here are some other things schools can do to reduce indoor temperatures:

  • Use shades to block direct sunlight from heating indoor spaces.
  • Reduce indoor heat sources such as artificial lighting and machinery.
  • Limit outdoor activity during peak temperatures.
  • Provide clean drinking water to keep students hydrated during extreme heat events
  • Build a green roof or paint the roofs white to reduce thermal gain.
  • Use plants along south facing windows to provide shade and reduce direct sunlight.
  • Keep air vents clear of blockage and maintain HVAC systems to reduce energy usage.
  • Use cool pavement in your school parking lot to reflect more solar energy.

EPA Bulletin: How Temperature Impacts Students

Is Your Child’s School Drinking Water Safe?

A new law that went into effect in California in January requires that schools have their drinking water tested for lead contamination by July of 2019. Schools built after 2010, private schools and those already required to test their drinking water are exempt.

Lead poses a health risk for children and vulnerable adults such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect cognitive abilities, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.

The new law requires schools to test up to five water sources, not a thorough examination when lead contamination can vary widely from water fixture to water fixture. Water outlets with lead levels over 15 parts per billion must be shut down or repaired. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

For information on how your school can request free lead testing, please see this flier. Requests must be received before November 1, 2019.

Flier: How to request Free Lead testing in your K-12 school

EdSource Flier: Lead in California School Water: What You Need To Know

Interactive Map: Sampling Results for Schools Tested for Lead

EdSource Special Report: Tainted Taps: Lead Puts California Students at Risk