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Peabody school committee panel raises questions about anti-bullying policy

Posted by Sean Teehan  December 8, 2010 10:55 AM

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New anti-bullying policies, which the state requires each Massachusetts public school to complete by Dec. 31, may cause a number of problems, Peabody School Committee members said.

At a Tuesday night meeting of the School Committee's health and well-being subcommittee at Higgins Middle School, concerns about enforcement and other aspects of the new policy, which will go before the entire committee next Tuesday, dominated the almost two-hour discussion.

"I have serious reservations about school department, school teachers, school bus drivers, school administrators, getting in this business," said School Committee member Jarrod Hochman.

One concern Hochman stated is that teachers may err on the side of caution and give credence to even frivolous accusations of bullying.

"What we're going to wind up with is virtually every accusation of bullying will render an investigation that will establish that bullying took place," Hochman said. He warned that teachers may fear exonerating students of bullying, because if they're wrong, results could be tragic.

Members also noted that the policy allows community members who aren't involved with the school to anonymously report bullying to the school.

"It could be Aunt Judy that read something on Facebook, it has nothing to do with anything," said committee member Tom Rossignoll.

Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, the subcommittee's chair, said that since focus on anti-bullying efforts intensified in recent months, increased investigations into instances of alleged bullying take up much of school administrators' time.

"People who are trying to administer a school, tend to all the duties that they have, have not been able to do that work because they have had to address accusations of bullying," Dunne said. "It's impacted on our ability to actually provide an education to the children."

While anxious about enforcement, training and the possibility of labeling some children as bullies, committee members acknowledged bullying as a problem.

Louise Genualdo, Peabody's Assistant Superintendent said that despite the vague definitions of bullying and other language in the policy, action against bullying is necessary.

"It may not be the best policy, it may not be the correct policy, but we know that we're starting a policy to move in that direction... to help protect kids," Genualdo said.

Dunne also noted the need for bullying prevention, but said "state mandated" bullying legislation rushed into school policy could prove detrimental to students and educators.

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