THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

South Hadley group completes plan to confront bullying

Better oversight, reporting sought

By Sydney Lupkin
Globe Correspondent / June 25, 2010

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Nearly six months after the suicide of South Hadley student Phoebe Prince, the town is moving to overhaul its antibullying policy.

An antibullying task force has submitted its final report to the School Committee, calling for new reporting guidelines and new programs, including an electronic system that would allow students to alert teachers of bullying anonymously. Day-to-day policy changes would include documenting all bullying reports and and notifying parents within one day of any incident.

“The community as a whole has been stung by the negative attention from the media over the past several months,’’ Gus Sayer, the school district’s superintendent, said yesterday. “I think this points in the positive direction. It’s more indicative of what the people of South Hadley are like.’’

Prince hanged herself in January after allegedly enduring relentless harassment from fellow students. Six teens have been charged in the events believed to have led to the 15-year-old Irish immigrant’s suicide.

The task force was made up of eight subgroups and included more than 100 people. The process started in February, and members met once a week to create the 60-page final report, complete with flow charts and information on potential electronic reporting services.

Although Sayer said it is “highly likely’’ that the recommendations will become school policy, it is not clear which programs will be implemented because of time and cost. He said the task force asked the School Committee to include $20,000 for new programs.

Some programs cost $10,000 to $20,000 alone, so they may take some time to put into practice, he said. More expensive programs tend to include textbooks and training.

The task force included parents, teachers, and other community members, such as South Hadley Police Chief David LaBrie. Three students joined the task force, including Emma Mulvaney, who Sayer said was particularly involved. Neither LaBrie nor Mulvaney was available for comment yesterday.

High school math teacher and swim coach Michelle Bussiere was in the school discipline policy subgroup.

“I just wanted to be part of the process of continuing to improve our school,’’ she said. “I think it’s a positive step.’’

Bussiere said about 300 people came to the early meetings back in February.

“They were all very opinionated and there were a lot of struggles at the beginning,’’ she said.

The state antibullying bill passed May 3 broadens schools’ responsibility over students, Sayer said.

“Schools have a role as custodians of kids . . . but our primary mission has been academics,’’ he said, adding that the role has been expanded to include monitoring behavior. “We’ve got a big job to do.’’

Dan Brown, pastor of Stony Brook Community Church, said he and his wife got involved with the task force “simply as members of the community.’’ Three of their children have graduated from South Hadley High.

Brown said his time on the committee was “eye-opening’’ and difficult because it took his subgroup several meetings to find its footing. He said the report was only part of what the task force contributed to the community.

“I think that the most beneficial part of the whole process is simply to have put it on so many more people’s radar,’’ he said. “A report like that is, in the end, a piece of paper. Its implementation will really depend on continued citizen involvement.’’

Sydney Lupkin can be reached at slupkin@globe.com.

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