APSB has policies in place to address bullying

Investigation, enforcement are complicated

By RAYMOND L. DAYE

    There is a strict policy against bullying and hazing in Avoyelles Parish schools, but a recent suicide many believe was directly related to bullying has raised questions on whether -- or even if -- those policies can be enforced in the public schools.
    Last year, when bullying was blamed for the suicide of Avoyelles High School sophomore John Jarreau, then-superintendent Dwayne Lemoine said  the school district takes bullying allegations very seriously, “but we have to be careful. 
    “Sometimes in our investigation, you will find that it is more complicated than it appeared at first,” Lemoine continued. “It's not always cut and dried.” Lemoine said school officials have to look at all of the facts to be fair to all parties involved.
    "The biggest problem with bullying is when it is not being reported," he said. "The incidents may occur between classes when there are no teachers around, or off school grounds.  With social media, it can happen and we never know about it. We could recognize bullying easier 20 years ago than we can today because of the effect of social media. It can be used to harass and bully students. It is a significant problem that is hard to get a handle on."
    Superintendent Blaine Dauzat echoed those comments following the recent suicide of Terry “Bubba” McCann at Marksville High.
    Dauzat said the investigation has not concluded that bullying drove McCann to commit suicide. He said suicide often has many factors.
    “Whether or not bullying was the cause of this most recent suicide, it is the one factor that can be addressed by school officials,” Dauzat stated. “We have policies and procedures in place to handle reports of bullying.”
    He also noted that those who are victims of bullying or are aware of bullying at their school should “step forward and report known cases of bullying.”
 
Anti-Bullying policy
    The parish anti-bullying policy states that the School Board "is committed to maintaining a safe, orderly, civil and positive learning environment so that no student feels bullied, threatened or harassed while in school or participating in school-related activities." 
    The policy defines "bullying" as an aggressive pattern of behavior that includes: gestures and making faces; written, electronic or verbal communications such as name-calling, threats of harm, taunting, malicious teasing, spreading untrue rumors, transmitting harmful images or messages electronically; physical acts, including hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping, choking and damage to personal property; purposefully shunning or excluding a student from activities.
    The policy states that the pattern of behavior "must be sufficiently severe, persistent and pervasive enough to either create an intimidating or threatening educational environment, have the effect of substantially interfering with a student's performance in school, or have the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school."
    When there is an allegation of bullying , a written report is submitted to the principal or his designee. The parents or guardians are notified before the students involved are interviewed. The alleged victim, alleged offender(s) and witnesses are interviewed privately, separately and confidentially.  
 
Complete in 10 days
    An investigation is to be completed within 10 days after the written report is submitted to the appropriate school official.  The principal/designee determines if the act is considered bullying and takes appropriate action.
    Upon completing the investigation, the principal/designee files  a written report on the findings of the investigation, including input from the involved students' parents/ guardians and the school's decision. The policy also calls for the principal to promptly notify the person who filed the initial complaint of the findings and what remedial action, if any, has been taken -- unless releasing that information would violate the law.
    The investigative report is placed in the involved students’ records and kept on file for three years.
    The state Department of Education gives principals the authority to establish a policy to refer bullies and their victims for counseling when bullying is suspected, reported and/or confirmed.

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