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BOE adopts bullying prevention policy

CORNWALL — A Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy — and a plan to implement it — were adopted by the Cornwall Board of Education Jan. 17. Board members have been taking a look at exactly what constitutes bullying, and how the school should make determinations and respond. Under Connecticut law, schools are required to not only have a policy, but to develop by July 1 a Safe School Climate Plan. That plan’s goal is to foster an atmosphere conducive to learning and free from bullying, harassment and discrimination. The plan must include guidelines for prevention and intervention as well as response.While an existing policy was being updated to reflect changes to state law, board members were advised to look at the policy and safe school plan as they relate to the particular climate and existing issues at Cornwall Consolidated School. Statutes require the state Department of Education to devise a model policy, but it is not expected it will recommend an identical policy for every school district.The Cornwall school board members always acknowledge that while CCS is a school of which to be proud, no school is perfect. That attitude has gone a long way toward addressing even the smallest problems and working toward resolving them.Chronic bullying on one school bus was addressed last year. It was one of the specific issues board members discussed last month when looking at bullying. The policy clearly states that the school’s responsibility for bullying intervention extends to school buses, school-related activities or programs beyond school grounds and “cyberbullying” — bullying by means of the Internet, cell phones and other electronic communication.It comes down to whether or not whatever is going on between two or more students interferes with the educational process, for an individual, a group or classroom, or the entire school, according to Principal Michael Croft.Croft is charged, by statute, with the role of Safe School Climate Specialist, and will collaborate with the school board and supervision.The way he dealt with the bus issues appeared successful, and offers a good example of how he would generally deal with bullying situations. “We opened up a line of communication with the drivers, and I was on the buses almost daily, so that issues didn’t grow. We need to deal with issues swiftly and decisively, so students know we are paying attention,” Croft said. Troublemakers received bus suspensions. Mixing ages seemed key to the problem.“They misinterpret each other’s actions. It seems all we needed to do was separate them. Bus 5 is still crowded but it’s no longer a problem.”Board members said they were still uncertain when bullying is really bullying.The policy states that bullying is a repeated action, physical, verbal, written or a gesture that;• causes physical or emotional harm to such student or damage to such student’s property;• places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or damage to his or her property;• infringes on the rights of each student at school;• substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of the school.Croft said it often starts with issues surrounding gender identity, physical appearance and self-expression. The policy also lists mental, physical and developmental disabilities, sexual orientation, race, religion, ancestry, socioeconomic status, academic status or by association with groups or individuals with those characteristics.But how does one decide if bullying has really occurred? Most people would say someone is being bullied if they feel they are. But that opens the door to erroneous accusations.Croft said there are some guidelines. “If you respond to someone’s odd behavior or appearance in a way that threatens them, then you are a bully. If you question, or don’t embrace their behavior or appearance, you are not a bully.”Whether or not the educational process, for an individual or group is disrupted is also a key factor in making a determination.It can still come down to a matter of one person’s word against another’s. That’s when a principal’s ability to make an educated and experienced call comes in.“Decisions are guided by the policy, but we can still exercise our judgment,” he said. “We know the students involved, and what else may be involved in the situation. Most problems come up at the more social aspects of school, such as events and on the bus, and it’s not always bullying. With really young students, the issues are about things like who my boyfriend is today. It’s not bullying because there’s not a power imbalance. With older kids, it’s all about how you treat people when others are watching.”Procedures for reporting and investigating complaints are spelled out in the plan. Complaints may be made in writing or anonymously to any school employee. Anonymity can be maintained at the student’s request throughout the investigation.Typically, meetings will be held individually with parents, but there is an option to have a joint meeting with the parents of the victim and the accused.In cases where bullying is verified, a safety support plan will be developed for the victim to protect them from further incidents. An intervention plan will be developed for a student found to be a repeat offender. It will include remedial action, such as discipline and counseling.In cases where the principal believes the bullying includes a criminal offense, law enforcement will be notified. If it includes discrimination under Title IX, which includes race, religion gender and the like, the investigation is required to include district personnel.School staff will be apprised of the approach, and new hires will receive the information in an introductory packet. They are required to report, within one school day, any incident of bullying they observe.Staff, students, parents and guardians will be apprised annually of the safe school climate plan. All school employees will receive annual training to learn how to identify, prevent and respond to bullying.

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