During the last year, the State Board of Education began an intensive dialogue about how to curb bullying in our schools, and foster a nurturing, orderly, safe and stimulating educational environment for students and employees.
After providing county school systems with a model anti-bullying policy to adopt locally, the State Board decided to tackle this issue even further by developing student and employee codes of conduct that clearly define behaviors that are unacceptable, as well as appropriate responses to violations of these codes.
The result: two significant education policies that encourage preventive approaches to bullying while providing levels of consequences for inappropriate behavior. Both policies are on public comment and scheduled for State Board action at its June 6 meeting at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Romney.
The proposed Student Code of Conduct replaces an existing policy that was passed in 1991, while the Employee Code of Conduct replaces the 1992 Teacher Code of Conduct.
According to experts, bullying occurs when a person willfully and repeatedly exercises power over another with hostile or malicious intent. In its Student Code of Conduct policy, the State Board of Education requires employees to respond immediately and consistently to any incidents of bullying in the schools. It further identifies four levels of student violations depending on the severity or repetition of a violation. The violations range from hazing and gang activity to such egregious offenses as defacing school property, possessing a deadly weapon or assault and battery.
In a study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, it was determined that people who are bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem, well into adulthood, and the bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.
Even more shocking was the revelation that nearly one of every three U.S. children and teenagers are affected by bullying in the schools.
Because of the pervasive and long-term effects of bullying and intimidation, the West Virginia Board of Education hopes to enact these policies that will issue a clear and concise message to the entire education community: bullying will not be tolerated.
The State Board of Education further recognizes that the capabilities and conduct of all school employees greatly affect the quality of education provided to students. Exemplary conduct by employees helps promote a positive school environment– free from intimidation and harassment. In that regard, the new Employee Code of Conduct directs all school personnel to exhibit professional behavior; contribute to creating an environment in which all students and employees are accepted; maintain an environment free from harassment, intimidation, bullying or violence; and create a culture of caring through understanding and support.
School psychologist and adviser to the National Mental Health Association, Kevin Dwyer, commented recently: “To reduce bullying, schools need to involve all staff members, parents and even student bystanders, whose silence may suggest tacit approval.”
The State Board believes that by taking this proactive approach, it will help reduce or eliminate instances of bullying in our schools. By engaging the support of our employees, parents and community members, we can continue to focus on academic achievement while keeping West Virginia schools safe havens for our young people.