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District seeks comment on bullying policy

Date: 11/15/2010

Nov. 15, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRHAM -- The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) recently released a draft of its Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan and is looking for community feedback.

The new Massachusetts state laws on bullying require that school departments and committees include the community in the formation of its plan.

"It's part of that. We've also been getting feedback through the school committee and we held a public forum we had [in May, 2010] where we talked about bullying prevention and intervention," HWRSD Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea said. "Public comment has been the main vehicle in developing this plan."

The plan is being made available on the Internet in PDF format through a link a the top of the HWRSD Web site, Upon reviewing it, readers are encouraged to fill out a feedback survey, also available via a link on the Web site. These links will be available until Nov. 19.

Once the survey period is over, any revisions to the plan deemed necessary will be made. After that, the plan will be presented to the school committee for approval in December. The plan must be submitted for approval by the state by Dec. 31.

The 22-page document covers several aspects of bullying, including an outline of the process of the policy's creation, lists of specific responsibilities for HWRSD employees in bullying prevention and the procedures for reporting and responding to bullying and retaliation.

"The baseline was the state's model plan," O'Shea said. "We worked off of that and tailored it to the unique needs of this school system. In certain parts of the plan, especially the professional training and development section, you will find things that are uniquely Hampden and Wilbraham."

O'Shea said that while other school departments have been able to simply insert the model law into its code of conduct, HWRSD and the School Committee felt the need to make the language more community specific.

"We didn't blindly dump the state statute into the handbook," O'Shea said. "It means we own the policy. We developed it and maybe because of that, perhaps we'll be more attentive to it."

It also defines key terminology, offering complete explanations of the meaning of often convoluted words, such as bullying, cyber-bullying and hostile environment.

"I think that's critical. It's important to define these terms," O'Shea said. "Bullying is a term that is used so frequently that sometimes we all need a reminder as to what constitutes bullying."

According to O'Shea, the majority of the definitions come from the state's model plan. Appendix A of the document includes a copy of the Bullying Prevention and Inervention Reporting Form. O'Shea added that the plan, once implemented will be just one more part of an "overall effort to prevent harassment in our schools."

"The focus lately has been on bulling, but people should understand that we have eyes on a wide range of programs providing safety and security to our students," O'Shea said.

In addition to bullying, hazing has been an issue in the state with high-profile cases in Eastern Massachusetts. Most recently in Needham, five members of the girls varsity soccer team were suspended after allegations of hazing freshmen on the team. Hazing is not included in the HWRSD bullying plan, nor is it part of the state's model. Hazing is already illegal, according to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 269, Sections 17-19.

"Hazing is not part of this initiative, but it is part of the larger umbrella of the harassment prevention policies we have," O'Shea said. "Annually, our coaches are instructed about what they should do about hazing, which is also required by state law."