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For Staunton River High School student Laura Ellis, the action taken against bullying by the Bedford County School Board Thursday is not the end, but rather just a beginning.
“I will be pushing for a statewide bullying prevention program to be put in every high school,” she told the school board, prior to its vote on the policy last week.
And, the 16-year-old Ellis said, she might just take her initiative nationwide.
Ellis has appeared before the school board for several months straight, urging the members to pass a policy that directly addresses bullying, and its prevention. She believes there should be support groups for students who are bullied and that the victims of bullying shouldn’t be made to feel like they are at fault.
“Together we can stand up to bullying,” Ellis told the board. “This is not the last time you guys will see me.”
The board unanimously approved its new policy.
The policy states that students in Bedford County Public Schools have the right “to a safe and healthy school environment, free from bullying and harassment,” noting that the school system is committed to “promoting mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance.”
Sara Staton, director of special services with the school system, said the policy enhances what is already being done by the schools.
The bullying prohibition includes actions against any person on school property or at a school function, including bullying through the use of electronic technology.
The policy defines bullying as “repeated negative behaviors with the intent to frighten or cause harm.” Typically, the definition states, it “occurs within a relationship characterized by an imbalance of power” and includes acts based upon race, religion, ancestry, national origin, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical appearance, social interactions or disability.
The policy lists a number of forms bullying can take, including:
• physical — acts of aggression;
• verbal/nonverbal — threats or gestures of physical aggression, name-calling or insults, mocking behaviors, obscene gestures, graffiti;
• relational — spreading rumors with intent to harm, group actions;
• cyber — the use of information and communication technologies that could include spreading information or pictures defined as bullying; and
• sexual/harassment — unwanted touching of a sexual nature, obscene gestures or comments made about a person’s sexuality or sexual activity.
The policy notes the difference between bullying and peer conflict, which involves disagreement and oppositional interactions which are developmentally typical. “These types of conflicts are not considered bullying and reflect the realities that any individual may experience socially unkind behaviors,” the policy states of peer conflict.
The policy states that conflict resolution or peer mediation programs will not be utilized in cases of bullying, because, by its nature, “bullying is a form of victimization and is not considered peer conflict where there is joint responsibility for resolution.”
The policy states that school staff will receive instruction on the school system’s policy and procedures surrounding bullying on an annual basis and that each school principal will implement a process for discussing with students, at least once a year, the school division’s policy on bullying and harassment.
The policy states that students or staff who believe they are a target of bullying, observe an act of bullying or who have reasonable grounds to believe bullying is taking place, “have a responsibility to report incidents to the principal or designee.”
In determining the consequences for those deemed to have been involved with bullying, the school system will take into account that student’s age, development, the degree of harm inflicted, surrounding circumstances, the nature and severity of the behavior, past or continuing patterns of behavior and the relationship of the individuals involved and the context of the event.
Each school will be encouraged to collect student input related to bullying concerns on that campus and principals will monitor and review the effectiveness of the program each year, providing a summary to the school superintendent.