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    Schools' policy to target bullies

    Hillsborough schools, hoping to prevent violence, plan to adopt a policy to define, punish and prevent bullying.

    By MELANIE AVE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001


    TAMPA -- Listen up bullies: School officials say your poking, hair-pulling, choking and ostracizing will not be tolerated in Hillsborough County.

    Nor will your name-calling, terrorizing or rejecting of other students.

    As victims of bullying have turned to serious acts of violence for revenge nationally, Hillsborough School Board members are cracking down on bullies by writing a policy to define, punish and prevent harassment and ridicule.

    "Times have changed," board member Candy Olson said. "What we're seeing now is these kids get bullied and they bring it to school with violence."

    The local policy comes with a heightened awareness nationwide of bullying. Some states require school districts to ban it. Bullying has been linked to shootings at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo., in 1999, and Santana High School in Santee, Calif., in March. In both cases, the suspects were taunted by classmates.

    If the local policy is approved, Hillsborough will lead the Tampa Bay area in targeting bullying behavior.

    Pinellas and Pasco define it as harassment and include it as part of other conduct and character policies. In Citrus, at least one board member wants a direct ban on bullying. And starting this fall, Hernando will test an anti-bullying curriculum at an elementary school.

    As the research into school violence pointed to bullying as a factor, Hillsborough officials took a critical look at the issue.

    "We felt like we could not ignore it," said Myrna Robinson, an area schools director.

    The Hillsborough policy, which will be discussed by board members Tuesday, defines several types of bullying -- emotional, verbal, physical and sexual. It sets up a range of punishments, from a verbal warning to expulsion. It encourages victims not to ignore offenses, but to report them.

    And it makes school officials responsible for "taking corrective action to prevent bullying."

    "This clarifies it," Olson said. "It's really raising the standard of behavior in the schools."

    A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in April found bullying was a regular part the American school day after surveying 15,686 students in grades six through 10. About 30 percent of them said they had been involved in bullying once a week or more.

    The study found bullying was more common in middle schools than high schools and boys were usually involved more so than girls.

    Gaither High School senior Jenny Dykema said she doesn't often see overt bullying, but she does notice some of her more quiet classmates being teased.

    "If I was that person, I know I'd feel pretty bad," she said. "People need to have respect for one another."

    The Hillsborough policy says bullying allegations will be written down and promptly investigated.

    The policy says: "Although boys are more often the perpetrators and victims of bullying, girls tend to bully in more indirect ways (manipulating friendships, ostracizing classmates and spreading malicious rumors)."

    Burnett Middle School Principal Walt Shaffner said school officials recognize bullying is not new. And they're not saying it has increased.

    But what has changed is how the victims are resorting to horrible acts of violence.

    "If stopping (bullying) would stop these other acts, then it's a logical progression," Shaffner said.

    Hillsborough school psychologist Adrian Parrado said he hopes the policy will raise awareness and stem the ridicule. Teachers will be trained in how to deal with bullying, and students will be given information about how harmful it can be.

    "Bullying results in a sense of oppression," he said. "You feel it inside. If you feel oppressed the chance that you'll listen to the teacher is decreased."

    King High School teacher Robin Jackson said she appreciates the school system taking bullying seriously.

    As the school's conflict resolution coordinator, she has found that 75 percent of the student cases that end up in mediation involve some form of bullying.

    "It happens every day," Jackson said. "It's amazing the pain, the baggage these kids walk around with. If kids don't deal with it, it's something they store, and boom. "Okay I'll bring a gun to school.' We don't want to see happen."

    The bullying policy is just the latest in Hillsborough's efforts to increase respectful behavior at schools and school events. Officials also have created a policy on civility that bans rude or abusive behavior by students, parents, teachers and administrators, and written new rules dealing with unruly spectators and fans at sporting events.

    As society becomes more diverse, schools must teach students how to live together in peace and harmony, said Roy Kaplan, executive director of the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice. Addressing school bullying is one way to do that.

    "Traditionally this stuff has gone on," he said. "Just because it's gone on the past doesn't mean it should go on. The stakes are higher."

    The Hillsborough School Board will discuss the bullying and civility policies at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the School Board building, 901 E Kennedy Blvd.

    - Melanie Ave covers education and can be reached at (813) 226-3400.

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