Broward schools deploy bullying database

Schools get tough on bullies

(Miami Herald) – Broward has become the first Florida school district to put in place a new anti-bullying policy before year’s end, as required by law.

Starting this week, Broward schools are rolling out a new computerized system for reporting and tracking bullying. State lawmakers passed a measure earlier this year requiring all districts adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies by December.

The Florida Department of Education will use Broward’s policy as a model for the state’s 66 other school districts.

In Miami-Dade County, a 2006 anti-bullying and violence program requires schools to offer a comprehensive curriculum for all grades, widespread training for administrators and counselors, and working to make it clear that bullying won’t be tolerated.

To meet the new state standards, Miami-Dade officials said that they also are working on a clear, uniform definition of bullying and standards for dealing with the problem. The new definition and standards will be included in updated school manuals.

Spurred by parents and School Board members, Broward already had begun working on its own guidelines while lawmakers wrestled with a broader policy.

”Our board and our parents said we need to take action now,” Broward School Superintendent Jim Notter said.

The Broward school district now defines bullying as “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress.”

The policy includes more than traditional schoolyard name-calling, teasing and shoving. Now, even behavior over the Internet — or social networking — can count if it affects students in school.

Once reported, administrators will began tracking the behavior, looking for patterns of abuse.

Students are not the only ones protected. The policy applies equally to adult employees.

The data will be available electronically, so administrators can easily see if a particular student or adult might be a habitual bully.

”Bullying has become almost epidemic nationally,” Notter said. “When you see something like that rise to that level, you do go back to your own school system and see if it’s happening here.”

Broward schools have worked to prevent bullying for years, said Amalio Nieves, health curriculum specialist for the district.

”What the policy does is help formalize the process,” he said. ‘What’s been happening for a long time is a lot of people saying, `Oh, that’s just teasing.’ ”

Now, with a unified definition of bullying and a new reporting system, the school system will be able to come up with better measures to prevent bullying.

Such measures could include peer counseling, parent conferences or guidance counselor referrals, Nieves said.

He emphasized that the policy was not meant to be punitive but to educate and to help change a culture that supports teasing and other forms of bullying in school.

The new changes may result in a spike in reports of bullying, and the public should brace for that, said Shelly Heller, a parent who worked with Broward schools to design the policy.

”It may be discomforting, but people have to be accountable,” she said. “Bullying is very dangerous.”

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