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School board considering new WCPS bullying policy

June 02, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County Public Schools officials can punish bullies even if the behavior occurs off school property and outside school hours, Washington County Board of Education President Wayne D. Ridenour said Tuesday.

A committee is working to define bullying and ways to combat it in schools, and has recommended some changes to the school system's bullying policy, which was discussed by the school board Tuesday.

The board voted 5-0 to preliminarily approve the altered policy, which will come back to the board for a final vote. Board members William H. Staley and Ruth Anne Callaham were absent for the vote.

A law was passed during the 2008 Maryland General Assembly legislative session requiring the Maryland State Department of Education to develop a model policy prohibiting bullying, harassment or intimidation in schools.

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School districts are required to review their existing policies and make them consistent with the new state policy.

John Davidson, director of student services for Washington County Public Schools, said the committee has proposed changing the definition of bullying to include a "one-time incident," not a series of incidents, which was the previous threshold.

Board member Donna Brightman said she was pleased with that recommended change.

"I've been told for years that we had to show a trend," Brightman said. "That's huge. It's a totally different ballgame."

Brightman said she also is aware of bullying and harassment occurring at some of the county's school bus stops, and asked if school officials have jurisdiction there.

Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said school officials should intervene anytime they are aware of an incident that is related to school or could affect a student in school, regardless of where or when it occurs.

Ridenour said that also would apply to a student who was being bullied over the Internet or cell phones after school hours.

"If (students) can't focus in the classroom because of what has happened outside of the classroom ... then I think we have to intercede," he said.

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