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District puts new bullying policy to work in schools

Allows students to file anonymous complaints

January 27, 2009
By MCKENZIE CASSIDY, mcassidy@breezenewspapers.com

School district leaders are rolling out the new bullying policy that hopefully curbs a disturbing trend where students are vulnerable in the school system.

Last year the Lee County School District put the finishing touches on a new policy mandated under the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act. On Tuesday afternoon, district officials briefed the school board on how the policy is being implemented.

Jackie Turner, assistant director of Student Services, said a PowerPoint presentation was created for principals in each of the district's 93 schools that covers important components of the policy and what the staff needs to know about identifying and dealing with instances of bullying or harassment.

The district also created and distributed a clear process for investigations, requiring complaints to be addressed within 48 hours and parents to be notified of the issue. In some cases, instances of bullying or harassment may be turned over to law enforcement officials.

District staff can register for a new in-service dealing with bullying, and students will be furnished with their rights and information on submitting anonymous complaints.

Turner said a student's ability to make anonymous complaints is key to the success of the policy.

"One of the things we learned is that they are reluctant to report incidents, so now they have a method of reporting it anonymously," she said.

Officials are continuing to learn more about cyberbullying, she said, a pervasive issue far more difficult to identify and track than traditional bullying in the schoolyard.

"We are gathering more information on cyberbullying and cyberstalking, which is becoming a common complaint in recent months," said Turner.

Members of the school board are concerned on how advancing technology is affecting an administrator's ability to deal with an incident of bullying. Board Member Robert Chilmonik discussed how students are using camera phones and social networking Web sites such as MySpace or Facebook to bully from home.

"Students are now unfortunately sending images of themselves across cell phones. There are so many things you can do with this now. That is one concern I have, and how do we deal with that?" asked Chilmonik.

Turner said that according to Florida statutes, instances of cyberbullying fall under the jurisdiction of the school board if they occur on district equipment or during school hours. On the other hand, she said the Florida Department of Education is taking a disparate view, contending that instances at home are not in the scope of a district and should be turned over to law enforcement officials.

Superintendent James Browder explained that administrators are cognizant of how students are utilizing technology to bully others.

"This is not new, just new how they do it," he said, adding that schools have dealt with this behavior for years.

"The use of electronic devices, the forwarding of inappropriate pictures have emerged within many of our schools, or forwarding of our tests," Browder said. "Our staff is aware and cognizant of the damages and things that can happen."

A 2007 study posted on the Web site Cyberbullying.us, reported that 17 percent of middle school students had experienced online bullying at least once in their life.

Another study specifically followed the victimization of young girls, ages 8 to 17, who were victimized online through name calling by other students or the spreading of emotionally damaging rumors.

Many documented cases describe high school girls being sexually harassed by students they know or other anonymous sources. In more extreme cases students were photographed in the locker room without their knowledge, and those pictures were forwarded to other students in the school.

"It is obvious that if you send an image not appropriate of a minor, that is a felony. I don't know if our students understand that," said Chilmonik.

 
 
 

 

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