By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer
Measures to combat bullying cannot always change behavior, and policy changes will only be as effective as adults’ commitment, says Rome school Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons of complying with anti-bullying laws that took effect this month.
The Board of Education last week accepted the first reading/draft of a revised policy on equal opportunity and non-discrimination, while an updated district code of conduct is scheduled to be in place by September. An anti-bullying committee of school, parent and community representatives that was formed last October will meet again Monday to discuss the revisions as well as district activities for 2012-13 to boost awareness, said Simons.
Those steps are in conjunction with the state’s newly activated Dignity for All Students Act; the legislation aims to provide students with school environments free of discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying. Bullying concerns have received increased attention nationally, including the role of various social media like texting and Facebook in aggravating such incidents.
Noting the Rome district investigates complaints of verbal or physical harassment with responses that can include disciplinary steps, counseling and parent meetings, Simons said Tuesday "sometimes these measures effectively change behaviors and sometimes they don’t. Persistent incidents...are at times referred to school resource officers and probation officers who work in our schools."
Asked about the impact of district policy changes, Simons said "these policies in and of themselves will only be as effective as the level of commitment and action the adults inside and outside of the school district are willing to make to address the problems...kids are facing. The policies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on without collective action from the adults, the students and the community to look out for the kids."
Students who bully others sometimes are victims of emotional or physical abuse or neglect outside of school, remarked Simons, adding "the accessibility of information through social media in combination at times with inadequate home supervision leads to students who grow up not knowing the difference between right and wrong." In contrast, confident students who "have loving and guiding adults in their lives and who are involved in positive activities such as music, sports and clubs or church related activities are far less likely to bully others or to become victims of bullies," he added.
Among new sections in the draft for the district’s updated policy on equal opportunity and non-discrimination are revised definitions of what is considered harassment, plus details for a new "Dignity Act Coordinator" to be appointed from a staff member at each school. It also addresses annual employee training, and new instructional programs for grades K-12 regarding civility, citizenship and character education.
As for the revised code of conduct, it will more clearly define roles of administrators and counselors in addressing student behavior within legal definitions of bullying and harassment, said Simons. It also will include an "age-appropriate version" that can be understood by students, he said; a section will state "You should never be prevented from concentrating on your schoolwork because another student or school staff member is teasing you, making fun of you, pushing you around or threatening you in some way because of your race, color, where your family comes from, your religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender."
The district already has some initiatives and programs that comply with the new state act, said Simons, citing character education curriculum and secondary-grade assemblies involving the effects of bullying. He added, "further programming is being scheduled for all schools."