Sue Scheff: Palm Beach County School District passes new anti-bullying policy


Palm Beach County School District passes new anti-bullying policy
By Marc Freeman

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

November 9, 2008

School bullies tease, threaten, stalk, humiliate, steal and get physical. They spell all sorts of trouble for students and teachers. But their reign of campus terror is under assault.

The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday tentatively adopted its first policy targeting bullying and harassment of all types, including cyberbullying, in accordance with a new state law.

Among the requirements: prompt investigations of alleged incidents; penalties as serious as suspension and expulsion for making false accusations of bullying or retaliating against anyone reporting a genuine bullying incident; and immediate notice to the parents of the bullies and their victims.

"It's a conscientiousness-raising policy for sure," said Rick Lewis, a coordinator in the School District's Safe Schools department.

The anti-bullying measures are results of the Legislature's Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, named for a 15-year-old Cape Coral teenager who committed suicide in 2005 after years of being bullied.

Broward County Public Schools adopted the required policy in July; all school districts in Florida are required to do the same by Dec. 1.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, a gay rights organization, persuaded Palm Beach County school officials that the new policy should include protection against bullying on the basis of one's "gender expression."

"Students should not be subjected to name-calling, threats of violence, or physical violence just because the way they dress, speak or act fails to conform to other students' perceptions of masculinity or femininity," Council President Rand Hoch said.

The policy also includes protection concerning a student or employee's race, religion, sexual orientation and other categories.

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