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Bibb schools to crack down on bullying

The Bibb County school system is drafting its plans to counter a scary statistic inside the nation’s schools.

Nearly one in three students is bullied at some point.

This year, the state strengthened its anti-bullying law, in part after a DeKalb County 11-year-old, taunted by classmates, committed suicide.

Now, school districts must adopt policies by Aug. 1, 2011, requiring teachers to promptly investigate reports of bullying and notify their principals, even in elementary school grades.

It also requires schools to deal with bullies — from suspensions to counseling — and notify the parents of children who are bullied, not just the aggressors.

“We’re dealing with lives,” said Craig Lockhart, Bibb’s assistant superintendent for student support services. “Most recently, children are committing suicide to escape the torment any way they can.”

The district had a case of “cyberbullying” this past school year, and at least two Bibb students were expelled for taking guns to school, saying that they had been bullied.

“There is not an exact count of how many cases occur each year because many incidents are never reported,” Lockhart said. “Also, many cases are documented under another offense, like fighting, when the actual root cause for the incident might have been related to bullying.”

A training session was held for the school system’s counselors, school psychologists and social workers last week, and one is being held with principals this week about how Bibb will tighten its policy.

Bullying is a pattern of taunting, harassing, intimidating or physically harming another student.

It can include spreading rumors, which can interfere with another student’s education or, in some cases, disrupt school.

The act isn’t just punishable at school either. Bullying can happen on the school bus, at the bus stop and even from a home computer.

Under the law revision, cyberbullying — the act of threatening and taunting students through social networking sites and other technology — is also punishable.

“We see it, but I think it’s more common at our elementary and middle schools,” said Rutland High School counselor Beverly Stewart. “We do have kids who don’t report it at school, but go home and report it because of fear or retaliation.”

All 39 Bibb schools are now forming anti-bullying committees to address the issue, and schools will soon launch anti-bullying campaigns.

“I think you’ll see signs throughout the school that say, “Zero tolerance for bullying,” said Miller Middle School counselor Chasha Colbert. “We are going in and educating our students” on consequences and ways victims can report it.

A recent student health survey by the Georgia Department of Education showed that about 85 percent of victims felt that school workers responded poorly or did not respond at all to reports of bullying.

All Bibb teachers and school administrators, Lockhart said, will be trained to recognize the signs of bullying and made aware that they could be held accountable — even liable — if schools aren’t properly investigating or reporting bullying cases.

“Based on the new law, we will investigate, notify, discipline and follow up,” he said.

A student found to be a bully, according to the law, can be transferred to another school. And any middle or high school student who commits three bullying-related offenses in a school year can be assigned by the school district to alternative school.

Schools not in compliance with the new changes will lose state funding.

“An awareness of bullying has to be heightened,” Lockhart told his system staffers. “Be proactive, but not paranoid.”

For more information on the new anti-bullying law, visit www.gadoe.org.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.

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