Aiken County school board passes bullying policy

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December 12, 2006

Every school system in South Carolina will have a new bullying policy by the first of the year, and tonight the Aiken County school board approved their version of the policy unanimously.

The brief page and a half policy passed tonight unanimously, and although everyone agrees it's a step in the right direction, some say the new plan already needs work.

Bullying is a nationwide problem in our schools that took center stage after Columbine.

"Bullying probably exists at all schools in some way, at all levels, from kindergarten to the twelfth grade," said Jim Yarborough, assistant superintendent for District 3.

But South Carolina's legislature took a big step to fight the problem this year, passing the Safe Schools Climate Act of 2006. The act requires each district to adopt a policy dealing with bullying by the first of next year.

"The push behind it of course is to produce safer schools, so obviously that's a good thing," Yarborough said. "Because of Columbine and because of the rise in hate crimes around the country, I think it's a good thing that we have a policy that deals specifically with harassment, intimidation and bullying."

The Aiken County school board voted unanimously to pass their version of a bullying policy. They define bullying as:

A gesture, electronic communication, or a written, verbal, physical, or sexual

Harming a student physically or emotionally or damaging a student's property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of personal harm or property damage.

Insulting or demeaning a student or group of students in such a manner as to cause substantial disruption in, or interference with the orderly operation of the school.

Family law attorney Kim Ray says that policy's definition is too broad. She brought that concern before the board.

"It could be anything from saying a child looks funny all the way up to someone being assaulted in some way," she said.

Jim Yarborough says enforcing it will also require work on everyone's part.

"Implementing a code of conduct, or a policy, is always challenging, but we can do it," he said.

Another concern voiced by some board members: since the policy is so broad, every little thing will have to be reported. That will create more paperwork for school employees.

If a student feels they are being bullied, they will have to first file a complaint. The superintendent will decide if that is with the principal or his designee, which could be a counselor or teacher. Reports by students or teachers may be made anonymously, but formal disciplinary action cannot be taken solely on the basis of an anonymous report.

Recent nationwide research shows 30 percent of students in grades six through ten are involved in bullying, whether as bullies or as victims.

The study shows one out of four kids is abused by another youth.

77 percent of students are bullied mentally, verbally, and physically.

Eight percent of students miss one day of class per month because of bullies.

28 percent of bullies have witnessed violence at home.