The community is invited to an interactive evening devoted to preventing bullying and harsh behavior among Nordonia Hills students -- and to hopefully begin a conversation that will help to prevent such behavior in the schools and in the community, says Michael Douglas.

Douglas, a consultant on race and diversity issues for the school district since 1998, is hosting the program and will serve as moderator of the forum. Also on hand will be a trio of experts including Juvenile Judge Linda Tucci-Teodosio, Macedonia Police Chief Jon Golden and Sarah J. Moore, an attorney with Roetzel & Andress, who represents school districts faced with liability issues, Douglas said.

The free program, which takes place Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. at the Nordonia High School auditorium, begins with a 40-minute play written by Brenton Cochran, of the North Canton Playhouse. Children in sixth-grade and up are welcomed to attend with their parents.

"The play is a real-life account of four students' stories from right here in Northeast Ohio," said Douglas. "It's in a high school setting and the actors tell their stories about how they were treated at school -- It deals with a variety of issues: weight, body image, cyberbullying, sexual orientation."

He said the "powerful" performance has been shown at around 80 middle and high schools throughout the region, with its first showing two years ago at an administrative retreat for Nordonia Hills school officials.

A panel discussion, with audience participation, will follow the play.

"We want to use the play to be the catalyst of discussion to see what can be done beyond the evening," said Douglas, who will act as facilitator of the forum as the panel and audience discuss issues brought out by the play "and look at ways of eliminating" the types of bullying recounted in the play.

"It's really about idea generation, and it's a parent outreach also," Douglas said. "There are going to be some questions at the end of the evening that we will give parents so they can continue the discussion with their children about the events of that evening.

"We're hoping that it's not just a one-time event, but it will be a conversation that will continue," he added.

Douglas said the panelists will bring a special expertise to the proceedings.

As an attorney who represents school districts, Moore "has an absolute wealth of knowledge" on issues related to bullying. "She's a passionate student advocate, but at the same time balances that as a representative of school districts," Douglas said. "She speaks to the challenges that school districts face."

Teodosio will be able to discuss what happens when the courts have to intervene.

"When these situations aren't addressed at the school level, how does she represent the concerns of both the target, the victim, and the perpetrator? How does the court respond?

"It is our hope that parents will hear what happens when parents don't get involved. Schools can't do it alone. Parents have to be involved," Douglas said.

Golden will explain the role of police, when behavior goes "beyond what a school district will address and become an issue that police will become involved in."

That will include cyberbullying and harassment that occurs outside the schools, and "the difference between poor behavior and downright criminal acts."

The event is paid for the district and a grant from the Ohio Department of Education, for a total cost of $2,500, Douglas said. It was organized about three months ago, with the encouragement of Superintendent Joe Clark.

Clark said the play's first performance two years made a powerful impression among the district's top administrators.

"They were moved by it and they decided it would be a great thing for their staffs and students to see," Clark said, adding the play has been shown since then at Nordonia Middle School and Nordonia High School.

"This is the first time we're getting parents involved," he said.

Douglas said Nordonia Hills Schools is ahead of the curve regarding anti-bullying and diversity awareness.

"We do a lot of cutting edge, great work," he added. "I think we try to take a proactive and preventative approach to these tough issues. We encourage people to come out that night and be a part of what we're trying to do."


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