Board of Ed­u­ca­tion ap­proves up­dated anti-bul­ly­ing pol­icy

Kent County News - - NEWS - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.

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