By ANN BRADSHAW
Superintendent, Milton School District
The Milton School Board held a community forum on harassment, hazing and bullying (HHB) just before school started in August. More than 20 parents, school staff and community members attended.
The purpose of the forum was to build understanding about how the schools respond to conduct that violates the right of every student to feel safe in school. Milton High School faculty member Angela King defined HHB and then explained the process that is followed when a report is made of potential HHB.
Harassment: Incidents meant to offend or intimidate another student based on a student’s or family member’s race, creed, color, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Examples are making fun of another student’s skin color and calling another student gay.
Hazing: An act against a student as part of maintaining or gaining membership in a school organization. Examples are making students complete a humiliating or dangerous task in order to belong to a club and requiring only the youngest members of a team to pick up equipment after practice.
Bullying: Any act or combination of acts repeated over time that is intended to ridicule, humiliate or intimidate. Examples are taunting a student daily during lunch and Facebook posts intended to humiliate.
A student or parent who believes there has been HHB should promptly report the behavior to a teacher, counselor or principal. If a school employee witnesses potential HHB conduct, he or she must intervene, then immediately report the incident to an employee who has been trained to investigate. Parents of both the targeted student and the accused student are notified at the beginning and conclusion of the investigation. Retaliation is also a violation of policy and is prohibited.
Sometimes parents worry that their child was bullied and nothing was done. One reason why parents may feel that nothing was done is because privacy laws prohibit the school from telling parents about the discipline of another child.
Follow up to questions from the community forum
Does every student have a safe person, or someone they can go to if they are troubled?
Elementary students identify their safe person during morning meetings and with the help of guidance counselors. Middle school students identify their safe person in teacher advisory. High school students identify their safe person through guidance and teacher advisory by completing a support map.
Do students with IEPs understand their rights not to be bullied or harassed and who to go to if they are?
Special education teachers were asked to have conversations with students on their caseloads, reviewing unacceptable conduct and helping them to identify their safe person.
Is the district complying with legal obligations for HHB?
Yes. Every school district in Vermont is required by law to adopt an HHB policy at least as stringent as the model policy provided by the state. The school board’s policy is tightly aligned to the state model and the schools conscientiously follow the policy.
Is there adequate and ongoing training for staff?
Principals and those who investigate have had training sessions with an attorney who specializes in HHB. All staff members are required to review the policy and procedure each year. High school and middle school faculty, custodial and maintenance staff had HHB training in September. Training for elementary faculty is planned for later this fall. A training session for bus drivers was held earlier this month. Food service staff has annual civil rights training, which includes students’ rights to a public education free from HHB.
After a determination that HHB has occurred, is there follow up?
Safety plans are developed in collaboration with families if there are concerns about continuing behaviors or retribution. Plans have beginning and end dates.
Preventing harassment, hazing and bullying: The schools focus on maintaining learning environments that are safe and respectful. Reports of HHB are taken seriously. Although student misconduct has consequences, it is also an opportunity for learning. Starting with the youngest students, being kind and sensitive to others is a part of the everyday life of the classroom. Programs such as Responsive Classroom and PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) emphasize pro-social behaviors. The schools are starting to use restorative justice practices that focus on repairing harm. Teacher advisory periods also provide opportunities for making connections and opening up communication.
The work ahead is to build on efforts to create schools where everyone feels safe and respected.
Parents: Your concerns are our concerns. If you or your child has a worry, please share that with your child’s teacher, counselor or principal.