PBS features Marshalltown on Not In Our School posters

When PBS was looking for communities to feature for its Not In Our School posters, it looked for schools that offered something unique. Because of Marshalltown’s proactive approach, the station selected it as one of five to feature.

“They have always had an interest in Marshalltown,” said Mike Schlesinger, publisher of the Times-Republican, which spearheads the Not In Our Town effort. “At the time, we were the only community participating in Not In Our Town that has not experienced a tragic event. We are doing it in hopes that we can stave that off.”

PBS is distributing the posters nationwide as a way to draw attention the program.

Aiddy Phomvisay, principal at Marshalltown High School, said the NIOT effort reflects the values on which Marshalltown prides itself. School staff works to instill core values and expectations of respect and intolerance of hate.

“It’s always an ongoing learning experience. I have seen great strides,” Phomvisay said. “It’s not just a slogan We will always have issues to work on We will continue to keep it in the forefront.”

As the NIOT initiative approaches its anniversary, the group has split into subcommittees focusing on different areas: home, school, work and the community at large.

Schlesinger said the group will begin working with local businesses throughout the summer, offering cookie-cutter harassment policies and employee handbooks for those without such policies in place.

Both Schlesinger and Phomvisay spoke about having universal standards for bullying so students and employees alike know the proper channels for recourse. Schlesinger likened harassment in the workplace to secondhand smoke.

“You are harming someone else with your words. Free speech was not intended to harm someone else. [The laws] were developed to have differences of opinions, not to harm others,” Schlesinger said.

A chasm divides expressing an opinion and harassment, he said. The NIOT campaign does not aim to quash opinions. If the T-R only printed the letters to the editor from people whose opinion it shared, the newspaper would print a lot fewer letters, Schlesinger said.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper said he doubts his department will ever be able to produce a report that shows the NIOT effort has curbed domestic violence or harassment arrests. However, he said it has made a difference insofar as it has started dialogue among the community.

It has brought awareness to issues that are often overshadowed by other, higher profile crimes, Tupper said. And while it doesn’t necessarily have a chilling effect on crime, it helps encourage people not to be bystanders.

“I don’t know that people think about whether the police department is going to get involved,” Tupper said. “But people are getting more involved.”

Schlesinger said the group will again participate in Oktemberfest and will also be looking to provide students kits and user guides about bullying. A community summit this summer will bring together members of the community to hear speakers and foster open dialogue on the topic.

Overall, the first year of the effort has gone well, Schlesinger said. The NIOT board will continue to plan events – a showing of the documentary “Bully” is already slated for next school year – and raise money. While there have been a few people who think the effort contains a hidden agenda, generally the initiative is gaining steam.

In part, he said, it’s the simplicity of the idea and not aiming to help a single group over another that makes the NIOT campaign successful.

“Essentially, it’s just the Golden Rule: treat people the way you want to be treated,” Schlesinger said. “We are not trying to change people’s beliefs Respect is not an agenda. Human beings need to be treated humanely.”