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Milton School District gives details on anti-bullying plans

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
August 3, 2010
— As the Milton School District crafts its own policy to meet state statutes requiring schools to define and report school bullying, it has a unique tool to use in the fight: a city-wide anti-harassment ordinance.

Discussions between local law enforcement and school officials on how the ordinance could work to control school bullying are still early, but school officials say the ordinance could add a layer of enforcement and communication at school.


The ordinance, which the city council approved in June, allows the police department to fine students who repeatedly bully and harass others at school. The ordinance covers physical and verbal bullying as well as cyber bullying and cell phone text message harassment, officials have said.


The ordinance would give police and school administration an intermediate level of enforcement, allowing harassment complaints to be heard in municipal court. Before the ordinance, legal complaints about bullying had to be dealt with in circuit court.


Police officials have said the ordinance is intended to empower bullied youths to speak up.


On Monday, Milton Superintendent Bernie Nikolay called the ordinance “a great idea,” but said the district plans to keep its own bullying policies and city policies on harassment separate.


Nikolay said local police and the school district would turn to ordinance fines in cases of school bullying “sparingly,” mostly in the district’s middle schools and high school.


“As a school district, we’ll do all we can to get kids to stop bullying,” he said. “There will be a lot of steps that we take before police would write out anyone a ticket.”


Jon Cruzan, a school board member and chairman of the district’s policy committee, echoed the sentiment.


“We’re not going to shovel it all to the police department,” he said. “But if (bullying) gets to a certain point, this presents a whole other level of authority that could be used. I think that gets people’s attention.”


Nikolay said school administrators and police officials plan to discuss at the next quarterly interagency meeting Sept. 20, how to collaborate on handling complaints of repeated.


Cruzan said the school board hasn’t discussed the city’s ordinance, but said he believes it’s a tool the district could use ‘in concert’ with its own policy against bullying.


“We’re continuing to look for methods that will be useful in trying to eradicate this (bullying),” he said. “It’s a good thing for a small city to be able to have your hand on a problem at a much more local level.”


Cruzan said no policy can completely eliminate bullying or harassment at school, but that state-mandated upgrades to schools’ bullying policies and Milton’s anti-harassment ordinance should improve communication between parents, students, the school district and law enforcement.


“It won’t fix everything, but it put lots of machinery in place to let parents and kids know there are options,” Cruzan said.



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