Local schools adopting new policy on bullying

MANCHESTER - A new policy governing school bullying is being discussed and adopted by several local school boards in an attempt to bring more clarity to the often elusive problem.

The policy language has been developed by the Vermont Department of Education and has popped up on several school board agendas over the past month.

"The new bullying policy is very comprehensive," said Sarah Merrill, the principal of the Manchester Elementary Middle School. "It provides definitions, examples, procedures for reporting, responding and training responsibilities of the school district. The procedures are robust and inclusive, holding adults collectively responsible for the well-being of our children," she said.

The current MEMS bullying policy includes cyber-bullying and is addressed in the school's handbook.

"Students' digital activities may impact others. If such actions inside or outside of school cause members of the District school community to feel unsafe or uncomfortable, then District administration may become involved. The District reserves the right to monitor any such actions and apply appropriate disciplinary consequences. Bullying is not tolerated by the District in any form, inside or outside of school," the handbook states.

The new policy will change the way MEMS handles situations of bullying moving forward.

"Many of the procedures outlined in the new policy are processes MEMS has in place. The new policy helps to frame specific responses in a more consistent, systematic approach." Merrill said. "The main difference between our current procedures and the new policy is the development and implementation of a formal safety plan for the victim."

Daniel French, Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union superintendent, said that bullying has always been an issue in schools but has received more attention through the media in recent years.

"When it comes to the mandatory policy we will adopt the same language from the model policy from the State," said French. "The model policy is a good one and has been quite helpful. What it does is it clearly defines what bullying is and provides us with a clear set of procedures on how to handle bullying when it occurs."

According to the new policy, "bullying" is defined as an overt act or combination of acts, including an act conducted by electronic means, directed against a student by another student or group of students and which is repeated over time; is intended to ridicule humiliate, or intimidate the student; and either occurs during the school day on school property, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored activity or does not occur during the school day on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored activity and can be shown to pose a clear and substantial interference with another student's right to access educational programs.

The policy points out examples of bullying that include name-calling and verbal taunts, physical threats or actual physical harm, and off-campus text messages or social media posts that ridicule or intimidate to the extent that the targeted student is not able to fully access to school's programs.

In order for this to be considered bullying, these incidents must be repeated over time, directed at a particular student, and intend to humiliate or intimidate.

The principal of each school will annually designate two employees to receive complaints of bullying and harassment. The names and contact information will be placed in the student handbook.

Depending on the severity of the bullying and, after investigation, disciplinary actions could include counseling, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion.

The new prevention of bullying policy must be in place at all Vermont schools by January 1, 2013.


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