SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

December 7, 2010

Peabody looks for input on bullying policy

PEABODY — The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on a proposed districtwide bullying policy tonight at the Higgins Middle School.

"We're hopeful people will look at the policy and give us input," said Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, chairwoman of the School Committee's Quality and Standards Subcommittee. "It's important on something so far-reaching. People may see things they want to bring to our attention."

In the spring, Massachusetts passed a comprehensive anti-bullying law that requires teachers to report instances of bullying to an administrator. There are also mandates for training for both teachers and students to help them recognize what bullying is and how to combat it.

The law was passed in response to the suicide deaths of 11-year-old Carl Walker Hoover, a sixth-grader in Springfield, who died last year, and 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, a student at South Hadley High School, who took her own life earlier this year.

As part of the state law, school districts must adopt their own anti-bullying policy, and tonight's meeting is part of that effort.

"Now, with cyber-bullying, it can be very extensive and involve many more people. It's heightened the problem," Dunne said. "We have to make sure all of these pieces are addressed."

The state, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and legal firms have put out sample models of what the policy should look like, said C. Milton Burnett, the Peabody schools superintendent.

Over the course of several months, a team of school officials "melded them together and took what worked for Peabody," Burnett said.

The proposed 11-page policy requires all school staff — including custodians, bus drivers and coaches — to immediately report any bullying to the school principal to investigate. If the principal determines that bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation took place, he or she must notify parents, administer disciplinary and corrective action, and take steps to protect the target of the bullying and any witnesses. Law enforcement must be notified if any criminal behavior took place.

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