.- In accordance with a new Mississippi law, diocesan schools are working to establish guidelines regarding bullying and harassment. Diocesan principals met with officials from the Diocese of Biloxiâs Department of Education Nov. 8 to craft guidelines that must be in place by Dec. 31 in adherence to Senate Bill 3015, which was passed in April and went into effect in July.
Once the guidelines are written, they will be reviewed by all of the school principals as well as diocesan Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mike Ladner and the Diocesan School Advisory Council.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rhonda Clark said the new guidelines are in no way a response to elevated instances of bullying at diocesan schools, but merely a matter of following the law. On the contrary, Dr. Clark said bullying, as defined by SB 3015, has not been a major problem in diocesan schools.
âAbsolutely not,â she said. âResearch has shown that 95 percent of incidents do not rise to the level that this statute states.â
Rather, Dr. Clark said a spate of recent bullying incidents resulting directly or indirectly in the suicide deaths of several bullying victims captured the national spotlight, prompting many states, such as Mississippi, to pass legislation regarding bullying and harassment.
Senate Bill 3015 defines bullying or harassing behavior as âany pattern of gestures or written, electronic or verbal communications, or any physical act or any threatening communication, or any act reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, or on a school bus, and that:
Â·Places a student or school employee in actual and reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or damage to his or her property, or
Â·Creates, or is certain to creative a hostile environment by substantially interfering with or impairing a studentâs education performance, opportunities, or benefits. For purposes of this section, âhostile environmentâ means that the victim subjectively views the conduct as bullying or harassing behavior and the conduct is objectively severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would agree that it is bullying or harassing behavior.
âThe main thing that weâre asking our principals to do is to behave in a reasonable and prudent manner, to ask their teachers to report any incidents of bullying that they see to their principal and the principal will follow the guidelines that are set up under our policy,â Dr. Clark said.
âEvery child should feel safe and secure in our schools. Thatâs the main thing we want. Learning cannot take place without a safe environment. We just want to have guidelines in place in case it does come up, but we believe our principals have done this all along. Theyâve been handling it properly. Theyâve investigated every incident. They keep records. We just donât tolerate it.â
Dr. Clark said one of thing that is important to point out is that diocesan school officials cannot discuss the punishment of one child with another childâs parents.
âA lot of times the parents of a child that they think has been bullied may think that the discipline is not severe enough, but we cannot discuss the discipline that has happened with that child with another childâs parent. We just canât do it,â she said.
However, Dr. Clark said such incidents arenât taken lightly.
âThere are guidelines in place at every school to deal with harassing and bullying behavior,â she said.
âWhat weâre doing today is trying to establish a uniform policy for all of the diocesan schools so that every school will be on the same page since we now do have a definite legal definition of what it is.â
Dr. Clark said that bullying happens on all levels.
âAnd we find that it happens in unstructured environments, which is before school, after school, during lunch, during PE â anything where you donât have a lot of structureâ she said.
St. Patrick Catholic High School principal Bobby Trosclair said bullying is simply a reality in todayâs schools.
âI wouldnât call it a problem, but it exists,â he said. âIt exists on all levels from elementary to high school. Itâs not something new. Itâs been around for ages. Thereâs just been more public attention to it.
âI think establishing these guidelines are a good idea for protection,â added Trosclair. âThe biggest thing is that a parentâs definition of bullying may be different from what the law determines bullying to be and thatâs one of the things we want to define today.â
St. Charles Borromeo Elementary School principal Ellen Loper said bullying has not been a problem at the Picayune school but believes that it is a good idea to have anti-bullying measures in place.
âItâs the law and I believe putting something in place protects everyone â the administration, the diocese, the school and the students,â she said. âThe students feel that they have that structure as their protection.â
Printed with permission from the Gulf Pine Catholic, newspaper from the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi.