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Board of Ed Approves New Policies Dealing with Bullying

Policy reflects state law regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying.

If students don’t know it by now, they will become fully aware of the state’s new laws about harassment, intimidation and bullying when school starts back in the fall.

And they should be aware. What they don't know could hurt them or land them trouble and not just with their teachers and principals, but with the district and with law enforcement as well.

Until now, some students may have thought that they couldaway with saying and doing just about anything they wanted, especially on the phone or online, but not anymore.  If they say something cruel or intimidating to another student either in person or through electronic communication – whether it happens on school property or after-hours – school officials will and must act.

The Board of Education -- upon second reading of the district’s policy regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying on Tuesday night -- approved the district’s new policy, which follows the state law and makes it mandatory to report such acts. If a principal or the superintendent does not conduct an investigation into the allegations, they will be subject to disciplinary measures.

During the second reading, Board Member Lise Chapman questioned whether someone who witnesses harassment, intimidation, bullying outside of school will actually tell the school.

“Good luck,” she said.

Other board members agreed that it seems to be asking a lot to get people to come forward regarding incidents outside of school but Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield said that the administration is working on putting “things in place to make people feel comfortable to report it.”

In addition, he said, knowing that behavior whether in person or on electronic devices will be investigated and analyzed maybe deter the behavior in the first place.

“Why take the risk?” he said.

The district will also help the targets of abuse feel more comfortable reporting it.

The consequences for violating the policy will vary depending on the circumstances, the severity of the behavior and degree of harm to the target of the bullying. It can be dealt with at the school or district level but law enforcement may be contacted. Those who engage in harassment, intimidation or bullying could be suspended, expelled, enrolled in a program, placed in therapy or referred to law enforcement.

The district will hire a Anti-Bullying Coordinator and appoint an Anti-Bullying Specialist at each school, where there will also be a School Safety Team.                

 In related policies also approved on Tuesday, the board:

  • Voted in favor of “School Violence Awareness Week” during October of each year, which will be observed with activities to prevent school violence such as pupil discussions about conflict resolution and issues of pupil diversity and tolerance. The district will invite law enforcement officers to join teachers in the discussions and provide programs for school employees that are designed to help them recognize warning signs of school violence and to instruct them on recommended conduct during an incident of school violence.
  •  Approved a policy that mandates all school district employees to report acts of school violence and student drug use. School officials will report them to the state Department of Education, which grades each district on how it handles such complaints.
  • Approved a policy that ensures training for teachers in suicide prevention and recognizing the warning signs of a pupil who is contemplating self destruction or harm. 

For more news out of the meeting check back later today.

Matthew Stoloff July 31, 2011 at 09:20 PM
M. OKeef's suggestion that everyone at school should read Alexandra Robbins' book is a fantastic suggestion. This book has gotten rave reviews and was on the New York Times bestseller list. I would also recommend Teen Cyberbulling Investigated by Judge Thomas Jacobs. I also suggest that teachers and school personnel develop activities that encourage students to be active participants in the class. Passively listening to anti-bullying messages is not going to cut it. Encouraging students to engage in philosophical debates about "free speech" and First Amendment rights would be a step in the right direction.
Matthew Stoloff July 31, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Matt, You ask good questions. I'll just address a few, and maybe others can chime in. If students write down their thoughts and keep it private, like a diary, I do not think they have committed a crime. However, if a student posts hateful thoughts about a particular student on a social media website, like Facebook, it may be a problem. There have been federal cases involving student harassment via social media. This law does not prevent teachers and students from expressing themselves. It depends on what you mean by "polemic," but I do not think teachers or students will be disciplined for expressing their views as long as it is done in a respectful manner -- no ad hominems, no name calling, etc. Regarding irony, the law does not specifically "eliminate" irony. However, the law is written broadly. Look at how the law defines "harassment, intimidation or bullying" on the second half of page 7 of this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2010/Bills/PL10/122_.PDF As you can see, the law is very broad. Indeed, we may have difficulties with context and interpretation, and this is cause for concern because not all lawyers will interpret the facts or the law in the same way. This can result in lawsuits. Also, sometimes when you have broadly written laws such as this, there may be unintended consequences; and I actually discuss that in one of my blog articles here: http://stoloff-law.com/blog/nj-anti-bullying-bill-of-rights-act-part-ii
Carolyn Most August 03, 2011 at 04:39 AM
Where are the parents in all of this? Especially with the online stuff. If I discovered that my child was posting nasty things online, I would take away their access. In fact, why would any parent let an 11 year old have a Facebook account? Or for that matter, unsupervised access to the internet? I run my business on the internet and I added an email address with my daughter's name which I use to communicate news about her to friends and family. I am not a helicopter parent by any means. My nearly 6 year old has a degree of freedom and responsibility that most of her peers do not and I feel it is important that she learns to entertain herself without parental supervisor indoors and out, but I cannot tell you how many times I have seen explicit porn show up in the mailbox I set up with her name on it. It will be a long time before she has access to any email or internet sites that I don't see first (cont)
Carolyn Most August 03, 2011 at 04:39 AM
It is ridiculous to try to legislate away the cruel behavior that kids and teenagers engage in. The real issue with bullying is that it is not so much about the specific behavior but how it impacts certain kids. Something that rolls off of one child might be devastating to another. The school certainly has some role if this sort of behavior is going on in school and a student is told that a specific behavior is causing pain or humiliation. Just like sexual harassment, it is the experience of the harassed that defines the harassment. But at the end of the day, it is the parents that have to take responsibility - hopefully by choice, but by force of the school district if the behavior continues.
Carolyn Most August 03, 2011 at 04:47 AM
Great suggestions! I would also like to see not just books on preventing bullying, but books and curriculum that positively engage our kids in what appropriate conflict resolution is and how civil discourse ought to work. As a society we are all so often bombarded with complete lack of civility on so many levels, how can we expect our kids to spontaneous adopt civil behavior? When I attended MHS in the late 70's we had a teacher named Mr. McCormick who set up controlled and extremely well executed social experiments in our class that taught a bunch of affluent almost exclusively white kids what discrimination felt like ( the class was called Minorities I think). It was a profound experience. Seems like this approach might be a better investment in our kids than after the fact intervention.

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