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Schools get tough with bullies

A Hillsborough policy details bullying behavior. Consequences can range from a warning to expulsion.

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


TAMPA -- It's official. Bullies are banned from Hillsborough schools.

School Board members unanimously approved a five-page policy on bullying Tuesday with the goal of pushing ridicule out of the schools and preventing violence at the hands of fed-up victims.

With little discussion, the board agreed to crack down on all types of bullying, from poking to terrorizing. The policy takes effect this fall.

Assistant Superintendent Randy Poindexter said the goal is to create a safe and orderly school environment. Victims should feel free to report offenses and bullies should know the consequences for bad behavior, which range from a verbal warning to expulsion.

"Kids will be better behaved in the schools," Poindexter said.

Hillsborough is one of the first school systems in the Tampa Bay area to institute a specific prohibition on bullying. Others, such as Pinellas and Pasco, address bullying as part of overall policies on harassment.

But Hillsborough is not the first to note the link between bullying and school violence such as in the 1999 shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School where the two gunmen were taunted by classmates. Schools nationwide have given the issue priority as research has shown victims of bullying have turned to serious acts of violence for revenge.

"Bullying can really, really affect a child," said Cindy Xenick, of the local Child Abuse Council.

In April, a study by the National Institute of Health and Human Development found about 30 percent of students surveyed had been involved in bullying once a week or more.

The Hillsborough policy, which will be included in the Code of Student Conduct handbook, defines several types of bullying -- emotional, verbal, physical and sexual. It encourages victims to report wrongdoing and school officials to take steps to prevent it.

It says allegations of bullying will be written down and promptly investigated and it notes that most bullying is repetitive.

Some have criticized the anti-bullying movement and its policies as being too broad. They say it can stifle normal childhood behavior and possibly infringe on students' free speech rights.

Board member Carolyn Bricklemyer, who supported the bullying policy, said she just wants to make sure that all school personnel will be trained to spot bullying and to take allegations seriously.

"The key is training," she said.

Poindexter, who oversaw the drafting of the policy, said the training of principals and teachers will begin this summer. He doesn't expect any confusion in the schools about what is and what isn't bully behavior.

"Bullying is pretty easy to see," he said.

Also approved was a civility policy that bans rude and abusive behavior by students, teachers, administrators and parents. It states that the district "expects civility from all who engage in school activities."

Recent coverage

Schools' policy to target bullies (May 12, 2001)

Child care linked to bad behavior (April 19, 2001)

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