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Washington County schools taking steps to curb bullies

February 06, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Bullying in schools is a national problem, and Washington County Public Schools officials said Tuesday they have taken steps to address it locally.

There have been 13 reported incidents of intimidation and harassment during the current school year, said Michael Markoe, acting assistant superintendent for elementary education. He said there were 22 reported incidents during the 2006-07 school year.

According to state data, there were 64 incidents reported in the 2005-06 school year -- the first year that such data was collected as part of the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005.

This information was presented Tuesday during a meeting between the Board of Education and the Hagerstown City Council.

Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner said that Washington County's incidents might be "artificially lower" than other school systems due to the method of reporting. The incidents of intimidation and harassment reported to the Maryland State Department of Education must be from a student, parent or close family member. Those people reporting the incident also must fill out a form.

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"We've taken a different approach," Markoe said. "If someone calls, we don't make them complete that form. We initiate the investigation, so it would not be reported to the state."

Markoe said that administrators immediately look into the complaint and address it.

"These numbers can be skewed by that, but we feel that's the way to address stakeholder concerns," he said.

Board Vice President Donna Brightman recommended filling out the form and also immediately addressing the concern.

Markoe said that intimidation and harassment are not tolerated in Washington County Public Schools. There are several initiatives in schools that focus on the prevention of bullying, and intervention once it occurs, he said.

Once school officials have received a report of harassment or bullying and an investigation occurs, officials determine if it is a valid complaint, he said.

If it is valid, the victim and the bully's parents or guardians are notified and an investigation form is completed, Markoe said. A first-time offender will be referred to a counselor for an intimidation and harassment intervention session, while a third-time offender could face in-school suspension, he said. After that, the student could be suspended from school, he said.

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