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baltimoresun.com

Schools think about stronger bullying policy

Technology making threats more pervasive

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

7:03 PM EST, November 15, 2011

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Recognizing a growing epidemic of children being harassed by their peers through cell phone text messages, calls, emails and social networking posts, Harford public school officials are considering updating their bullying and harassment policy.

Jonathan Brown, director of community engagement, equity and cultural proficiency, and Patrick Spicer, the board's lawyer, presented an updated policy at Monday night's Harford County Board of Education meeting.

The term "cyberbullying" would be inserted into the existing policy, titled "Bullying, Harassment or Intimidation of Students."

The existing policy already prohibits the harassment, intimidation and bullying of students with the use of electronic devices — or cyberbullying — according to the schools, and the term would just provide further clarity on the issue.

Brown explained the presentation was simply to present the information to the board for adoption at another meeting, which Spicer said would most likely be in about 30 days after that board had sufficient time to review the updated policy.

"We take cyberbullying, as well as other bullying, very seriously," Spicer said Tuesday afternoon. He clarified that the addition of the term is so teachers, students and parents alike understand that the schools takes cyberbullying just as seriously as any other type of harassment.

"A lot of people see that term and don't necessarily think it's included in that policy, but it does," he said. Spicer also felt that adding "cyberbullying" to the title of the policy would also bring an awareness to the issue since not everyone will read the entire document.

According to the schools, the policy will be posted on the school system's website, hcps.org, under its "Hot Topics" section where the public can provide input for the next 30 days.

Required to elective

Other business at Monday's Board of Education meeting:

The board unanimously voted to make the Living in a Contemporary World course an elective rather than being mandatory for ninth graders.

The class, which was introduced in the 2006-2007 school year as a transition course part of the Comprehensive Secondary School Reform Program, covers topics such as financial literacy, introduction to career development and the career cluster system. The unit on financial literacy will be moved to a required course, such as American government.

Board member Robert Frisch commented hat he's "always been concerned with this course" and has gotten a lot of negative feedback on it.

Frisch also said he wanted to eliminate the course altogether to free the teachers to teach other classes. He then made a motion to eliminate the course. Nancy Reynolds seconded the motion, but retracted it after student representative Anthony Cofrancesco said, "If children truly don't have interest, they won't take the course," but it was "still a valid course." No one seconded Frisch's motion.

The board then voted to keep the course, but no longer make it mandatory for students.

The board decided to table a motion to vote on the 2012 legislative platform until the Nov. 21 meeting. The platform "is an integral component of an overall strategy on issues significant to public education in Harford County," the schools said in a report before the meeting.

Jonathan Brown also gave a presentation of community engagement, equity and cultural proficiency.

Brown explained that the department has three goals: to prepare students for success after high school, encourage and monitor the engagement between the community and schools and have a staff committed to increasing student achievement.

The department, he explained, reaches these goals through events, such as the Cool Careers for Girls Cyber Watch Summit, a diversity literacy fair, Chemical, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education day, mentoring services and professional development classes.