The Dedham School Committee approved its bullying policy by a unanimous vote at Wednesday night's meeting.
Earlier that day, the Bullying Policy Subcommittee gathered and voted to approve the policy as well. The policy, which has been on the town website for the public to view, was discussed and reviewed by the policy and legal counsel Ed Lenox. Superintendent June Doe also noted that she thinks it is a very good policy.
"It was thoroughly reviewed by legal counsel and he mentioned today that it hits all the points that are required by the statute that was passed last spring," said Subcommittee and School Committee member Dave Roberts.
The legislation was signed in May after there were several suicides connected with bullying over the past couple of years. However, it is a problem that has existed for a long time, and officials plan to try to stop it.
According to the state legislation, bullying is defined as "the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal, or electronic expression, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at a target that:
- causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target's property;
- places the target in reasonable fear of harm to him/herself, or of damage to his/her property;
- creates a hostile environment at school for the target;
- infringes on the rights of the target at school; or
- materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school."
The legislation also includes cyber-bullying, which is defined as "bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a:
- photo-electronic or photo-optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, Internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications."
The most common forms of cyberbullying are through e-mails, text messages and social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.
School Committee member Joe Heisler had submitted an amendment to the policy to the subcommittee, but it had been denied by the committee.
Heisler requested that an amendment be made that included an annual report no later than Oct. 1 by the Superintendent regarding actions being taken by administration due to bullying.
"This is such an important issue that we cant afford on this getting lost throughout the year," said Heisler. "In order to evaluate effectiveness of the policy, we need a baseline of data of what is taking place so in the following years we can see if what we have is working."
Superintendent June Doe told the committee that by law, she must report any act of discipline anyway.
Chair Tom Ryan agreed that the issue was important in the district, as well as all around the state. He said that after the South Hadley situation that involved a suicide, the whole state is taking the matter seriously.
However, he said that with revolving members on the School Committee, it may create complications in years to come. Heisler disagreed and said that he felt it to be a committee member's duty to be up to speed.
Heisler submitted the amendment to the subcommittee weeks prior to Wednesday's meeting, but found out at the meeting that it was not included. Roberts explained that legal counsel advised to leave this out of the policy.
Therefore, Heisler made a late proposal for the amendment just before Wednesday's meeting. A vote resulted in a tie, which led to the amendment failing.
"I think that this has good merit, but it may not be the right place to put it," said Committee member Tracy Driscoll.