Bullying's effect more important than intent
Darien school officials updated the district's bullying policy after state lawmakers passed legislation that broadened the definition of bullying and expanded the schools' jurisdiction of enforcement.
It also requires that schools implement a "safe school climate plan" by Jan. 1, 2012, according to schools Superintendent Stephen Falcone. The board voted unanimously to accept the updated policy at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Board member Susan Perticone was absent. The major definition change replaces the word "intent" with "has the effect of," meaning that the motivations of the bully are irrelevant, and the act and its consequences are what matters.
Bullying off school grounds was never considered in the district's purview, but under the new legislation, bullies can be disciplined if caught bullying on property not owned by the schools.
School lawyers worked with the district to draft a model policy that would meet state standards, Falcone said. The state outlined 17 measures to determine the schools' safe climate plan is adequate, including an update on reporting procedures, investigation methodology, intervention and prevention strategies, communication with parents and maintaining records and reports of verified acts of bullying.
Many of these items are already included in the district's bullying policy, Falcone said. Board of Ed Chairman Kim Westcott asked Falcone what was being done to communicate the changes to students and staff, and suggested the schools put something on its website.
Under the revised definition, the Board of Ed now defines bullying as "the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic communication, such as cyberbullying, or a physical act or gesture directed at another student attending school in the same district that: 1. Causes physical or emotional harm to such student or damage to such student's property; 2. Places such student in a reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property; 3. Creates a hostile environment at school for such a student; 4. Infringes on the rights of such student at school; or 5. Substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
Cyberbullying includes using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, cell phones or other mobile electronic devices or electronic communications to perform the act of bullying, according to the new policy. With the new policy in place, the schools now must create a safe school climate plan and submit it to the state Department of Education by the end of this year. This plan outlines the new policy established by the board.