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School district to consider new ‘bullying’ policy

By Staff | Nov 15, 2008

The Lee County School District will decide Tuesday whether to approve its newly crafted “Bullying and Harassment” policy. If approved it will put the district in compliance with the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act which passed through the Florida Legislature earlier this year.

The Stand Up For All Students Act requires all 67 school districts across the state to redraft a more comprehensive bullying policy that addresses cyber-bullying and outlines a process for districts to deal with bullies and victims.

Since the summer district employees have been designing the new policy using the law, a model policy distributed from the Florida Department of Education, and input from teachers as well as administrators. Together they produced Policy 4.141 that is up for approval by the school board on Tuesday and would put the school in compliance with the bully law.

Cape Coral teacher Debbie Johnston created and proposed the law in honor of her son Jeffrey who committed suicide in 2005 after years of being a victim of bullying and harassment.

On Friday, Johnston said that she thought the school district did a terrific job in adapting the policy for Lee County.

“The biggest obstacle is convincing people that it is as good as it actually is,” said Johnston. “I have talked to a number of schools who are really embracing it.”

The addition of cyberbullying is the most substantial change to school policy, explained Johnston, who said that internet harassment is just one more thing in a bully’s arsenal. Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are acts that involve students taunting others online using instant message programs or social networking sites.

“We are going to hold people responsible for what they do through the use of technology,” she said. “The purpose of the law isn’t to prosecute kids but have every tool at our disposal to identify when bullying is going on and assess what level of intervention is appropriate and get help for bullies and victims.”

Johnston will attend the school board meeting on Tuesday along with some fellow staff members and students from ALC Central in Fort Myers. She also is intending to offer training for teachers and staff throughout the school district to assist with the policy’s implementation.

“We are changing the culture to being all about punishment to be about making a change,” she said.

Jackie Turner, assistant director of Student Services, worked on drafting the policy last month along with other staff from the school district. Discussion at that time centered around reporting acts of bullying and how to motivate students to come forward.

“Here’s the tough part,” she said. “Students at high school said they don’t tell because it makes it worse.”

As a result, the draft policy allows anonymous reports from students and requires all school employees to report any acts that they witness.

District staff also discussed how far the school could reach into the home, specifically whether harassing messages posted by students at home could qualify as breaching the new policy.

The draft policy states that, “a principal will assign a designee to initiate an investigation of whether an act of bullying or harassment is within the scope of the school district.”

It also requires principals or administrators to report any acts of bullying to the parents of the alleged victim on the day that the investigation is started. Incidents of bullying will also be reported to the state’s School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting system or SESIR.