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Peabody School Committee members disagree on bullying policy

Posted by Sean Teehan  December 15, 2010 10:34 AM

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With the deadline for passage of an anti-bullying policy a little more than two weeks away, Peabody's proposal is proving controversial among School Committee members.

Some committee members defended the policy, while others criticized the state's mandate that schools pass anti-bullying policies by Dec. 31.

The committee passed the measure for a "first reading" Tuesday and will later vote whether to pass them into policy. Questions about time spent on dealing with bullying accusations, record-keeping of incidents, and other concerns dominated the discussion.

"This goes far beyond what i think we should be asking our administrators to do," said committee member Jarrod Hochman.

Among his apprehensions, Hochman mentioned time spent on teaching students about bullying that teachers could spend teaching academic subjects instead.

"We're looking at now having to take away from science or some of the other four subjects we want to teach children," said Hochman, who told board members he planned on voting against the policy.

But committee member Brandi Carpenter argued that the policy is necessary for students suffering from repeated bullying incidents.

"You think education may get watered down," Carpenter said. "But some kids aren't getting any [education] because of [bullying]."

Arguing that it could increase bullying, lawsuits, and distract administrators from their other duties, committee member David McGeney spoke out against the policy.

McGeney, who called the policy "ill-conceived, knee jerk reaction legislation" and "nonsense of people in ivory towers," warned state mandates could cause the demise of public education.

"When they finish the autopsy of public education as we know it... the cause of death is going to be 1,000 paper cuts," McGeney said.

Committee member Ed Charest said that despite some ill-conceived facets of the policy, it includes aspects that protect children.

"Kids are dying," Charest said. "Can we cut [the policy] in half and use what's appropriate? Yes, but we're not going to throw it out."

Two Massachusetts youths committed suicide this year, allegedly after classmates bullied them on a continuous basis. Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old South Hadley High School student,  took her own life in January, and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover an 11-year-old student at a Springfield charter school, committed suicide in April.

While criticizing the policy for creating a "quasi-legal system," committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne said the policy could also encourage victims and bystanders to report bullying incidents.

"This could be a very empowering policy where students who may be afraid to speak up can," Dunne said.

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