The South Hadley schools have drafted a new antibullying policy that requires all staff members to report "any bullying they see or learn about" and pledges to "promptly and reasonably" investigate any allegation of harassment.
The draft policy, which school administrators released Monday night, defines bullying as acts that cause "physical or emotional harm," place students in "reasonable fear of harm" or create a "unwelcoming or hostile environment at school for another person."
A task force, formed after 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself in January, crafted the policy and discussed it at its meeting Monday. The 31-member group plans to complete the policy in the coming weeks.
In the three months before her death, Prince was the target of relentless harassment by two groups of students, officials say, and school administrators have come under heavy criticism for not doing more to protect her. Her death brought school bullying to the forefront as an issue in Massachusetts and generated international headlines.
Six former students at South Hadley High School face felony charges in connection with her death, and have pleaded not guilty.
Northwest District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel contends the students waged an unrelenting three-month harassment campaign against Prince, an Irish immigrant who entered South Hadley High School last September. She has faulted administrators for failing to recognize Prince's troubles.
Schools Superintendent Gus Sayer has defended how schools handled the situation and insisted they only learned of the bullying a week before Prince's death.
Prosecutors say that that Prince spoke with a school administrator a week before she died about being threatened physically and told officials she was "scared and wanted to go home." A witness told prosecutors Prince returned to class and told a classmate that nothing was going to be done.
She had resorted to hiding in bathroom stalls and even asked friends if she could walk between them to guard against a sudden attack. Shortly before she died, she texted a friend about "her despair at the ongoing taunting to which she was subjected," prosecutors said.
In the wake of Prince's death, school districts across the state have tackled the issue, calling in specialists, holding meetings, and devising antibullying strategies.
State lawmakers have unanimously approved two separate antibullying bills, but progress on a compromise measure has stalled. Governor Deval Patrick has voiced support for antibullying legislation.
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