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WCPS has new bullying, harassment policy

June 16, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Board of Education approved a policy Tuesday that clarifies what bullying is and how it will be dealt with in the county's schools.

Officials who were involved in drafting the policy described it as a step toward creating an atmosphere of civility in schools and throughout the county.

The school board approved the policy 5-0, with board members Paul W. Bailey and William H. Staley absent.

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 and intimidation in schools.

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

The new policy defines bullying, harassment or intimidation to be "purposeful conduct, including verbal, physical or written conduct, or intentional electronic communication that creates a hostile educational environment" by interfering with a student's education. The behavior also must be motivated by "an actual or a perceived personal characteristic," like race or sex; be threatening or intimidating; occur on school property, at a school activity or on a school bus; or must disrupt education, according to the policy.

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Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, co-chairman of a committee that helped draft the new policy, said the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., changed how law enforcement and school officials perceive bullying.

"How many opportunities were missed to intervene in that kind of situation?" Smith asked, saying that bullying played a role in the incident.

He said the policy approved Tuesday will offer students additional protection and a better education.

During the school board's meeting earlier this month, board member Donna Brightman questioned whether students who are bullied at bus stops would receive that same protection. At that time, board President Wayne D. Ridenour said the school system could punish bullies even if the behavior occurs off school property and outside school hours if that behavior affects school operations.

John Davidson, director of student services for Washington County Public Schools, said Tuesday that while language about bus stops was left out of the policy, bullying behavior there will not be ignored.

"When kids enter the bus, they are our responsibility," he said. "If the problem spills into the school from the bus stop, we deal with it."

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