The Riverhead Central School District Board of Education passed the district's first official bullying policy last week, as the school board continues working on a comprehensive review and update of its policies and the RCSD complies with a piece of state legislation requiring districts to codify their bullying procedures on the local level.
The Dignity for All Students Act, enacted at the state level in September of 2010, requires all districts in the state to put certain practices into place by July 1, 2012 to help create environments free of harassment and discrimination.
The district previously had sexual and racial harassment policies on the books, and administrators followed certain protocols when faced with bullying in the schools. Last Tuesday's approval of the "Student Bullying Prevention and Intervention" policy, according to Superintendent Nancy Carney, will not drastically change how the district approaches bullying.
"We have active bullying prevention programs and training throughout the district and have had for several years," Carney said via email. "We also have a student management plan at the elementary level and a code of contact at the secondary level that address bullying. The new policy, which is required by NY State, simply codifies the methods we currently follow with regards to bullying incidents and clearly defines bullying."
The policy passed by the district defines bullying as: "a hostile activity which harms or induces fear through the threat of further aggression and/or creates terror. Bullying may be premeditated or a sudden activity. It may be subtle or easy to identify, done by one person or a group." It then goes on to give a more in-depth explanation of bullying, including characteristics of it and different kinds.
One difference Carney said will affect the school is the required creation of task forces at the elementary and secondary level, meant to "assist the administration in developing and implementing specific procedures on early identification of bullying and other preventative strategies." She said the district already has one at the elementary level.
Pulaski Street School Principal Dave Densieski said last week he had yet to take a thorough look the new policy, though his current procedures involve steps he said has worked effectively during his nine-year tenure as principal. On the group level, bullying is talked about on the first day of school - telling students what they can do in certain situations and where to go for help - and the district offers occasional bullying workshops for parents.
When individual incidents come up, Densieski said, often he finds the bully has actually been bullied in the past, and getting to the root of that problem involves one-on-one intervention with the help of adults close to the students.
"The first thing we do is make an effort to get a parent on the phone and say 'We need your help to say this is not acceptable,'" said Densieski. "Because once you have exposed a bully, that helps get you back to where you need to be."
In addition to formalizing and adopting a bullying policy, the district approved close to a dozen other policies last Tuesday. Board President Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said the intergovernmental committee, on which she serves with fellow board member Amelia Lantz, has been working for close to a year updating the board's policies. A third reading of another group of policies is expected at the board's next meeting, while another set of policies has yet to be read.