Chippewa Valley Schools' new board policy on bullying and other aggressive behavior is almost identical to the one adopted in 2006, but to ensure full compliance with , the school board moved for an upgrade on Monday.
Per the timeframe set by House Bill 4163, commonly known as Matt’s Safe School Law, Chippewa Valley and other Michigan school districts have until June 6, 2012 to adopt or update district policies on bullying.
Chippewa's new policy, written by NEOLA of Michigan to the specifications of state law and approved by the board on Monday, is effective immediately.
By the policy’s own terms, notice of its existence must be circulated annually within the district and posted in “conspicuous locations in all school buildings and departments” as well as discussed with students and incorporated into the student, teacher and parent handbooks distributed each year.
While most of the policy's language is identical to the 2006 version, one of the most significant changes comes, no surprise, in the definition of “bullying.” While the new policy still details bullying in its physical, verbal and psychological forms, it also expands the definition to note four specific outcomes that can result from the act.
Such as, when bullying may be “adversely affecting the ability of a student to participate in or benefit from the school district’s education programs or activities by placing the student in reasonable fear or physical harm or by causing substantial emotional distress.”
Like its predecessor, the new policy also takes a stand on cyberbullying, or “electronically transmitted acts” that interfere with the district’s “right and responsibility to maintain a safe environment for students, conducive to learning and other legitimate objectives of the school program.”
While this portion of the policy cannot be interpreted to interfere with an individual’s free speech rights, Superintendent Ron Roberts said in enforcing the policy, the district will “weigh an individual’s right to the rights of the common good.”
“We need that language in here because our responsibility is to educate kids,” he said. “We have to have an educational setting in which that can occur ... so there has to be flexible language so that if things occur that impact learning and the educational setting, that may trump someone’s free speech rights.”
Bullying via cell phones and social media have contributed to this issue of free speech versus district authority in recent years.
“What happens a lot is kids sometimes engage in behavior that’s risky outside of school on their own devices, and then it becomes a school matter because it’s brought to school,” Roberts said. “Once the issue surfaces in school, and it interferes with the educational process, then it becomes our issue.”
With this in mind, Roberts said the district is also working to develop a secondary policy that focuses specifically on cyberbullying.
So what happens if a district investigation confirms that an instance of bullying or aggressive behavior has occurred?
The new policy allows the district to expel students, discharge employees, exclude parents, guests, volunteers and contractors, and remove from any official position or request a resignation on the part of board members. The district can also refer individuals to law enforcement or other necessary authorities.
For transparency, the superintendent will submit a report documenting all verified instances of bullying to the school board on an annual basis.
The updated policy will be submitted to the Michigan Department of Education for record and to ensure compliance with the law.