'Proactive' policy to prevent bullying reviewed by school board
Fairfield school officials are studying ways to more proactively prevent bullying.
However, a new anti-bullying policy, given a first reading before the school board Tuesday, is designed to change the conversation from "what do we do when bullying occurs to what about our school climate supports continued bullying," according to Leonardi.
The policy, she added, will change from officials' "response" to bullying incidents to prevention, intervention and response.
The proposal, drawn primarily Connecticut Association of Boards of Education material, calls for development and implementation of a safe school climate plan by the school board to address bullying; requires school employees who witness acts of bullying or receive reports of bullying to notify the safe school climate specialist or another school administrator; specifies that each school have a prevention and intervention strategy; requires each school to notify parents or guardians of all students involved in a verified act of bullying no later than 48 hours after completion of an investigation; establishes a procedure for each school to document and maintain records relating to reports and investigations of bullying, and outlines safety support plans for students against whom bullying was directed to protect against more bullying.
The policy also requires a school principal to notify the police if any acts of bullying are believed to constitute criminal conduct. In addition, bullying is prohibited not only on school grounds, but also at a school-sponsored or -related activity, function or program off school grounds, as well as at bus stops.
Each school in the district also would have a designated safe school climate specialist and safe school climate committee.
The 12-page document "is perhaps the most encompassing policy on bullying that you could ever find," said board member Sue Brand.
However, fellow board member Stacey Zahn felt something about the proposal was incomplete, though she couldn't put her finger on it. "I don't even know what to put in it to make myself satisfied," she said.
Kelly Crisp, a former prosecutor who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said there's nothing in the policy that directly addresses sexual harassment.
"It's not specific, so the victim would not recognize him or her within the examples of bullying," she said. Conversely, a bully going through the text, and finding nothing on sexual harassment, might not recognize that such conduct is inappropriate, according to Crisp.
"A code of conduct goes to making children aware," Crisp said.
The only line in the proposal that indicates that sexual harassment is prohibited is the seventh and final example of bullying, which among other things, prohibits targeting a student based on gender identity or expression.
"Rumors spread of a sexual nature. That's not addressed in here," Crisp said.
The goal of the policy is to create a bully-free, safe school climate, proponents said.
However, school board member Paul Fattibene wondered if creating a truly safe school climate might leave students ill-prepared for bullying down the line.
"We need to give them the tools in which they can protect themselves outside of school," he said.
But board member Sue Dow felt a truly safe school climate would give students more self-esteem, adding that those with healthy self-esteem tend not to be picked on.
The Board of Education could potentially vote on the new bullying policy at its next regular meeting, sometime in October.