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Howard schools to create their own bullying online reporting system and launch it this school year

The Howard County Public School System is working on its own bullying reporting tool and communication campaign, and it plans to release an online form by the end of the current school year, Lisa Davis, director of program innovation and student well-being for the school system, said Thursday night.

Davis, speaking at a work session on bullying at the Howard Board of Education meeting, said the new system will move away from using Sprigeo, an outside vendor website and app that allows students and parents to submit reports.

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Sprigeo does not provide the school system with all the information needed to conduct an investigation and it does not conform to state reporting standards, according to Davis.

Howard schools prohibit bullying, cyberbullying, harassment or intimidation as these acts “compromise the learning environment and well-being of students, employees, and community,” according to the school system’s policy on bullying, cyberbullying, harassment or intimidation.

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At Thursday’s board meeting, school officials presented an updated report on the state March 2019 report on bullying, harassment or intimidation. Next month, the Maryland State Department of Education is expected to release this year’s statewide report.

Thursday’s presentation marked 10 months and two days since the school board decided last April to have an additional work session to look more closely into the March 2019 bullying report. The work session was canceled twice in the past 10 months.

In last year’s presentation, school officials reported that from Sept. 15, 2018, to April 1, 2019, 884 incidents of bullying, harassment or intimidation were reported to the school system.

Of those, 298 were reported in elementary schools, 350 in middle schools, 221 at the high school level and 15 at the Homewood Center, a specialized county school, school officials said.

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In Maryland public schools, a total of 7,647 incidents of bullying, intimidation or harassment were reported during the 2017-18 academic year, according to the 2019 state report. Most victims were middle-school-aged.

School board Vice Chairwoman Vicky Cutroneo would like to see a bullying intervention team implemented at all 77 Howard schools.

“It all comes down to school culture,” Cutroneo said.

The school board and administration focused on cyberbullying toward the end of the work session.

“Cyberbullying is not just contained in schools. My bigger concern is 24/7,” Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said.

“I am greatly concerned about the activity online and cyberbullying with devices. That is something that is way out of control,” he said. “I believe if you ask every child who has a device in our system, at some point ... they have experienced that [cyberbullying].”

Currently, when a bullying reporting form is sent to a Howard County school, an investigation begins within two school days and corrective actions are implemented.

Corrective actions with the offending student include, but are not limited to, school counseling, detention, a conference between school administrative or instructional staff or student support services and the student, a phone call home, a warning to the student, a conference between school administration and the student’s family.

Corrective actions take place after the outcome of the complaint is decided upon by the school administration.

Allison Alston, Howard’s student member of the board, asked during a Thursday work session on bullying, “Has there been any research on the effectiveness of the corrective actions?”

To which she received the reply of, “Hmm, let’s ask MSDE. That’s a good question,” Davis said.

Two state cyberbullying laws have roots in Howard County.

Grace’s Law and Grace’s Law 2.0 were created after Grace McComas, a sophomore at Glenelg High School, killed herself as a result of being cyberbullied on Twitter by an older male student. Grace died on Easter in 2012.

Grace’s Law was passed in the Maryland General Assembly in 2013, four days before the first anniversary of Grace’s death. The initial law made repeated, malicious cyberbullying acts of a minor a criminal offense to be punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.

Grace’s Law 2.0, which went into effect Oct. 1, increases penalties for cyberbullying including allowing authorities to crack down on a single social media post, families to see peace orders and a misdemeanor penalty of up to 10 years in prison or up to $10,000 in fines.

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