Board of Education approves updated anti-bullying policy
ROCK HALL — The Kent County Board of Education updated the district’s bullying policy Monday after leaving it tabled for two months in the hopes of garnering public input. The policy defines bullying, cyberbullying, harassment and bias and the various forms of discrimination that can be at the heart of it: race, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The inclusion of gender identity came at the request of students. Following the initial presentation of the policy in December, some community members asked the Board of Education to hold off on a vote to allow more public input. Besides the student contribution, which Superintendent Karen Couch has praised, the board received comments from local psychologist Ileana Lindstrom and Linda Dutton of PFLAG Mid-Shore. Couch read Linstrom’s suggestions to the Board of Education Monday night. Among them, Lindstrom sought a reference to racism in the policy title, which is listed as “Bullying, Harassment and Intimidation,” more people to be included in bullying investigations, to memorialize in the policy Mid-Shore Pro Bono as a resource and to ensure infractions are handled on a case-by-case basis as opposed to taking a zero-tolerance stance. Regarding changing the policy title, Couch said it would change the intent of the policy. She said racism is just one basis for bullying. President Trish McGee spoke about having attended a workshop on gender identity last month. She said the district will need to focus on that issue. “Because I think sexual identity and gender identify are going to be the next frontier, where we’re going to see bullying and harassment and just very mean behavior,” she said. Couch and board members expressed concern about the number of people being involved in investigations and how that could slow down the process. Vice President Bryan Williams said in such cases, there is a student who is being bullied. While Couch took no issue with using Mid-Shore Pro Bono, which provides legal services to those in need, as a resource, she questioned institutionalizing the name of one particular organization in a district policy. Couch said zero-tolerance policies have been eliminated by the state already. “It’s very clear by the discipline regs that we don’t have a zero tolerance,” she said, noting that the policy outlines how bullying incidents must be handled case by case. Board of Education candidate Francoise Sullivan read a letter from Dutton. In it, Dutton raised concerns about the need to file written reports. She said students fearing retribution may be fearful of filling out a report. Board member Wendy Costa asked what jurisdiction the district has over cyberbullying originating at students’ homes. “That’s where you have to investigate to determine what kind of disruption it has caused to the school,” Couch said, noting cases of online communication between individuals that made their way to the larger student body. It was stated in a previous Board of Education meeting that cyberbullying using district-issued laptops, tablets or other technology would constitute a violation of the policy for acceptable use. Costa noted Monday the revisions district administrators have made to the policy since its introduction. “I appreciate the many changes you’ve made to it over the last couple of months,” Costa told Couch. Board of Education members approved the policy without further changes.