I was greeted this morning with a very unfortunate email. The email concerned bullying in Westport Schools and included a heart wrenching video of an 8th grade girl claiming to be a victim of bullying in Westport schools. (http://patch.com/A-gcKG) It is just not enough to feel sorry for this victim of bullying, we need to question the effectiveness of the current law and policies in place to avoid the tragic consequences that other towns have dealt with because their students were victims of bullying.
I previously blogged about the revisions to Connecticut’s law against bullying in 2008. Under Connecticut General Statute section 10-222d, the law requires “any overt acts by a student or group of students directed against another student with the intent to ridicule, harass, humiliate or intimidate the other student while on school grounds, at a school sponsored activity or on a school bus, which acts are committed more than once against any student during the school year.” In addition to definitional changes, the statute requires:
- teachers and other staff members who witness acts of bullying to make written notification to school administrators;
- prohibits disciplinary actions based solely on the basis of an anonymous report of bullying;
- requires prevention strategies as well as interventions strategies;
- requires that parents of a student who commits verified acts of bullying or against whom such bullying occurred be notified by each school and be invited to attend at least one meeting;
- requires school to annually report the number of verified acts of bullying to the State Department of Education (DOE);
- no later than February 1, 2009, boards must submit the bullying policies to the DOE;
- no later than July 1, 2009, boards must include their bullying policy in their school district’s publications of rules, procedures and standards of conduct for school and in all of its student handbooks, and
- effective July 1, 2009, boards must now provide in-service training for its teacher and administrators on prevention of bullying.
Westport responded to the requirements of this statute with a comprehensive bullying policy which can be found on the school district’s website under the tab for parents, and then selecting policies. Here is the direct link to the policy: (http://www2.westport.k12.ct.us/media/policies/prohibition_against_bullying_5131.911_revised_8.25.2008.pdf)
Armed with Connecticut’s law and Westport’s policy, what should we do as parents, community members, and professionals? I do not profess to have the answers but at a minimum, we should discuss this with our children, question the school administrators, guidance staff and teachers. Together we should challenge ourselves to make a difference using the channels available to us. There are ways that we can help to effectuate change before it is too late. If you know of a child affected by bullying, please act on their behalf. Not every student will post a video to tell you this is happening. If the school is not addressing the bullying in a meaningful way to eradicate the conduct, legal redress is available and the courts will readily intervene.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by telephone in the Firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at SMaya@Mayalaw.com. Attorney Maya is a partner at Maya Murphy, P.C. Her practice is limited to Education Law and Trusts and Estates.