Revised School Policy Focuses On Bullying

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Bullies who harass, intimidate or assault other students on or off school grounds, or even on the Internet, will face strict discipline, and any teachers or administrators who fail to report a case of bullying could lose their jobs, under an anti-bullying policy adopted by the Payson Unified School District this week.

The school board on Monday unanimously adopted a model anti-bullying policy proposed by the Arizona School Boards Association, adding new provisions intended to crack down on cyberbullying.

Nearly a third of middle school and high school students have faced harassment or bullying in the past year, according to the Arizona Youth Survey, distributed by the state Department of Education. About 5 percent of middle school and high school students say they face chronic bullying — involving more than 12 incidents a year.

The statewide survey showed that eighth-graders face the highest incidence of bullying. Statewide, 40 percent of eighth-graders say they’ve been bullied at least once, and 7 percent face chronic bullying.

One gay student recently appealed to the Payson school board to crack down on bullying, saying he faced frightening, demeaning bullying nearly every day, prompting him to finally leave the district.

The police officer who serves as the school resource officer cited 16 reported cases of bullying or harassment during the 2010-11 school year.

The report also includes seven misdemeanor arrests, five felony arrests, one assault and four child abuse investigations. The officer reported a host of incident referrals, including 25 from parents, 75 from staff and 44 from students. The report also tallied three cases involving weapons on campus, three cases involving threats and 12 cases involving drugs and alcohol.

The bolstered policy including mandatory staff reporting of all incidents, including cyberbullying, may increase those tallies and perhaps begin to reflect rates revealed in various surveys of students, many of whom never report incidents of bullying to school authorities.

The state has a law requiring school districts to prevent bullying and create a safe school environment. An addition to that law enacted this year adds provisions concerning cyberbullying and a requirement that school districts keep consistent statistics on trends.

The anti-bullying policy adopted by the Payson school board on Monday requires the district to provide educational materials and a description of the anti-bullying policy to every student and parent in the district.

Moreover, the policy requires students and teachers to formally report every incidence of bullying they observe or that is reported to them. Administrators must then file a written report about each incident and the actions taken that will remain in the school records for at least six years.

Teachers and administrators who don’t make the required reports could lose their jobs, according to the policy.

The policy says that any student who makes a false report of bullying can face suspension or expulsion.

The district’s policy covers both actual assaults and bullying behavior that creates an “intimidating, threatening or abusive environment” or places any student in “reasonable fear” of harm or damage to property.

That includes “verbal, written or graphic exposure to derogatory comments, extortion, exploitation, name calling or rumor spreading either directly through another person or group or through cyberbullying.”

Bullying could include “social exclusion or ostracism” and “pushing, hitting, kicking, shoving or spitting.”

The policy banning cyberbullying includes harassing posts and messages on students phones, computers and other electronic media — not just school computers or messages sent or received on school grounds.

The policy also covers any reprisals against a student who reports being bullied and requires administrators to report in writing the outcome of the investigation into the reported bullying, both for the record and to the victimized student and his or her parents.

The policy calls on the school district to provide guidelines and background information on the policy to every student in the first week of school and to every new, incoming student. The district will also post the policy in every classroom, in common areas on campus, in the student handbook and on the district’s Web site.

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