Board awaits federal OK on rights policies
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield School Board postponed a vote on its new anti-bullying and harassment policies on Monday.
Board members said before they can vote, the policy needs approval from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Federal investigators say in May 2010, a black sixth-grader was threatened by a Riverside Middle School teacher’s aide who used a racial epithet, the Associated Press reported in August.
The school district paid up to $3,000 in counseling services but one of the school district’s attorneys, Pietro Lynn of Lynn, Lynn, and Blackman, confirmed it was a no fault settlement and voluntary resolution agreement. Even so, the OCR advised the school district to strengthen policies and train faculty and staff on bullying and harassment procedures.
“One of the steps was to rewrite the harassment and bullying policies and take it further than the state of Vermont. We’re in legal dialogue with them clearing our policy,” said Zach McLaughlin, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment.
The school district’s draft policies will include language provided by state and federal agencies. The policy on bullying prevention is defined as an overt act or combination of acts — including electronic acts — directed against students.
Bullying incidents are typically repeated over time, directed at a particular student and intended to ridicule, humiliate or intimidate, according to the draft policy.
The policy on harassment prohibits the unlawful harassment of students based on race, creed, color, national origin, marital status, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. Each school will select two or more employees to receive complaints and publicize their availability within the district, the draft says.
The OCR added language to the proposed policies for an enhanced appeal process. If an individual commits an act of bullying or harassment, the person can appeal the decision in accordance with the district’s disciplinary policy, statues or collective bargaining agreements.
Both policies will also include independent reviews. If an individual commits an act of bullying or harassment and is not satisfied with the decision, they may submit a request in writing to the Springfield Superintendent of Schools.
“The appeals process for bullying and harassment will be identical,” Springfield Superintendent Frank Perotti said.
The district also designated McLaughlin as the new equity coordinator to oversee all aspects of implementation. The coordinator will be responsible for implementation the Equal Opportunity in Education and Civil Rights Acts.
The Vermont Legislature passed a law last biennium requiring school districts to put anti-bullying and harassment policies in place by Jan. 1, 2013. The School Board will revisit the new policies before the end of the year, but a date has not been determined.
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