Though Westport’s bullying policy tries to stamp out threats, slurs and violence in order to keeps its schools safe, the 13-page policy isn’t always foolproof in this age of cyber bullying, smut lists and new forms of harassment, officials say.
According to the town’s superintendent of schools, Elliott Landon, the district has been “on top” of bullying.
“But it takes two to tango,” Landon told Patch, and incidents need to be reported so that school employees to can act.
In recent years, the bullying policy was modified to include online attacks that might happen outside of the schools. Landon said anything that ends up hindering the school’s learning environment can be punishable – even if it happened on a home computer.
“When people can work from a private place where they can’t see the other person or can’t confront someone directly, they use cyberspace to bully and it can get to be very, very ugly,” Landon said. “It’s created a whole new level of bullying.”
In her video, Pollack says she is in therapy more than class and wonders whether high school will be worse.
According to statistics, middle school is the apex of cruelty. The National Center for Education Statistics said that in the 2007-08 school year, 44 of middle schools reported bullying. Only 22 percent of high schools reported bullying. Widespread disorder, racial tensions and sexual harassment were also at the top in middle school.
“There is real bullying and mean behavior that takes place at the middle schools,” said State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, father of a girl at Coleytown Middle School. “For many of these kids, their parents would be appalled at what they’re doing.”
The state Senate is considering a bill that would require schools to adopt new bullying policies. The law would:
- Require schools to notify parents if their child was a victim or instigator of bullying.
- Require employees to undergo annual anti-bullying training.
- Schools would set up a system where bullying can be anonymously reported (Westport already has this).
- Implement detailed records in order to track instances of bullying.
Steinberg said that legislators are interested in stopping bullying, but he wonders if this bill is the right approach for all schools.
“Some school districts don’t need a top-down solution that requires them to do something different, but you can talk to some people from those schools and it and their measures might not have worked,” he said.
In Westport, punishment can be as harsh as expulsion. Landon said that social skills is a key component of the elementary schools’ curriculum, and the dangers of bullying is focused on. Guidance counselors and assistant principals work to prevent bullying, and there are programs for parents and students addressing the issue.
“Middle school is tough, but that’s why we have the teams in place. That’s why we have all the guidance counselors we have,” Landon said. “We spend a l0t of energy and time on working with middle school kids to ensure that they don’t do that type of thing.”