NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 26, 2012

Board adopts plan to deal with bullying

By Jennifer Solis
Correspondent

---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket Regional School Committee recently adopted a 17-page bullying prevention and intervention plan, bringing the district in synch with a new zero tolerance policy on bullying and cyberbullying at the state level.

The comprehensive plan identifies the six building principals as primarily responsible for oversight of the anti-bullying strategy within their individual schools.

The policy establishes methods for preventing, intervening, and responding to incidents of bullying, cyberbulling and retaliation. It takes “specific steps to create a safe, supportive environment” for vulnerable populations within the school community such as students who have disabilities, who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or who are homeless. And it aims to provide “all students with skills, knowledge, and strategies to prevent or respond to bullying, harassment or teasing.”

The plan governs bullying on school grounds, at the bus stop and at school-sponsored events. It also covers harassement that occurs out of school via technology or an electronic device “if the act creates a hostile environment at school for the target or witnesses, infringes on their rights at school, or materially or substantially disrupts the education process of the orderly operation of a school.”

Pentucket employees will participate in ongoing professional development to better identify “tell-tale signs of bullying” and to understand its long-term impact on students and the school community. The goal is “to create a school climate that promotes safety, civil communication, and respect for differences,” the policy states.

Educationally, the aim is to empower students to take appropriate action when they witness acts of bullying or retaliation, including those that occur through social media interactions. Through the Bullying Prevention Curricula, skills for empathy, impulse control, problem solving and anger management are enhanced as students learn to engage in healthy relationships communication that respects diversity and differences.

Under the plan, Pentucket staff are “required to report immediately” in written or oral form any instance of bullying or retaliation they witness or of which they are made aware.

“Our district sees faculty and staff’s obligation to report bullying as analogues to the mandate to report child abuse or neglect,” the policy states.

Students, parents and non-district employees may report incidents anonymously; however, the report notes that this type of complaint is difficult to investigate fully.

“Anonymous reporting from bystanders is encouraged as long as the participants are able to be identified,” the policy states. No disciplinary action will be taken against an alleged aggressor based solely on an anonymous report.

At the start of each school year students and parents will receive a copy of the district’s Incident Reporting Form. The form is also posted at www.prsd.org and available at each school’s main office and nursing and counseling offices.

The one-page form asks for the name, age, grade and school of the target and aggressor involved in the bullying; a description of the incident and who witnessed it; and whether the person reporting knows of other incidents of bullying. The person reporting may chose whether to include their name, relationship to the student and phone number.

The form is then returned to the school staff and reviewed by the principal or assistant principal. Forms may also be anonymously mailed to the superintendent’s office. Or incidents may be reported via email or voicemail.

According to the policy, “students will be provided practical, safe, private and age-appropriate ways to report and discuss an incident of bullying with a staff member or with the principal.”

However, students found to make knowingly false allegations of bullying or retaliation could face disciplinary action.

Once an incident is reported, an investigation consistent with school and district policies will begin within 48 hours.

The principal will take immediate steps to “restore a sense of safety to the alleged target” that include creating a personal safety plan, pre-determining seating in the classroom, cafeteria and bus; identify a staff person to act as a “safe person” for the target; alerting relevant staff of the need for increased vigilance during transition times; helping promote resiliency in the target child; and, if necessary, altering the aggressor’s schedule and access to the target.

Parents of the alleged aggressor and target will be notified of the results of the investigation in a manner compliant with state and federal privacy laws and regulations.

The policy notes that because of the legal requirements regarding the confidentiality of student records, in most cases, the target’s parents will not receive specific information about the disciplinary action taken against the aggressor. But they will be “informed of the school’s plan to monitor the situation and help ensure the safety of their child,” the policy states.

The principal will follow up in a timely manner to determine the effectiveness of any intervention. Parents may appeal the findings of any investigation to the superintendent.