We’ve said numerous times that there is a critical duty to prevent bullying in the schools. It attacks self-esteem and can sometimes be the catalyst for depression, anxiety, academic difficulties and the desire to hurt yourself or others.
The tragic case of Eston William Nelson II of Upshur County was widely reported less than a year ago. His father, Bill Nelson, said the student had talked to his parents repeatedly about the bullying problems he was facing at school. On Nov. 16, police officials found the young boy about a mile from his home, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Thankfully, Marion County officials said during the past school year they have been getting fewer calls about bullying.
One case, though, is one too many.
We appreciate every tool available to wipe out the intense pain that comes from bullying.
Cyberbullying is now a crime in West Virginia, punishable by jail time and/or a fine. The legislation expanded the definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying, specifying that any behavior that placed a student in a reasonable amount of fear of damage to themselves or their property — including through electronic communication — was subject for punishment.
Now there is still another measure available.
With a goal to improve school climate, a new version of Policy 4373: Expected Behavior in Safe and Supportive Schools went into effect July 1.
The new version encompasses four new related policies: Policy 2418: Regulations for Alternative Education for Disruptive Students; Policy 2421: Racial, Sexual, Religious/Ethnic Harassment and Violence; Policy 2422.5: Substance Abuse and Tobacco Control; and Policy 4372: Student Rights and Responsibilities.
As the Times West Virginian reported Sunday, when the state Department of Education started drafting the policy, West Virginia Board of Education President Wade Linger knew it would be the perfect opportunity to address the bullying problem.
“The first thing that drew me in was realizing this was our chance to make our stand as it relates to the bullying problem that was starting to pop up, and so it was important to me to get in there and make sure we address it,” said Linger, a Marion County resident.
The fact that all students should be treated equally was important to Linger.
“Even if a student didn’t fall into any of the categories on the list, including reasons for bullying that we can’t predict in advance in a policy like this, I think the board wanted to make sure that all students were protected equally,” Linger said.
Once the policy was drafted, the board went into the field to collect feedback, where they met with administrators, teachers and community members. The policy was up for public comment for 60 days. More than 800 comments were posted, and some of those comments inspired changes to the policy.
“It’s more important now than it’s ever been to have a policy of this nature,” said Don Chapman, assistant director in the Office of Healthy Schools. “Dr. (Jorea) Marple (state superintendent of schools) really wanted to emphasize that it’s everyone’s role. If we’re going to reduce the amount of bullying in school, the amount of violence, the amount of inappropriate behavior, everyone plays a role.”
A key is that the policy doesn’t solely focus on the negative. It encourages administrators and educators to model good behavior and reward those who display that attitude.
“It’s good to tackle it before it starts,” Rivesville Elementary/Middle School principal Mark Stutler said. “We call ourselves a Golden Rule school, and we’ve never hesitated to quote the scripture and treat others the way you’d want to be treated.”
The key to positive behavior support (PBS) programs is being proactive rather than waiting until problems escalate. It’s a concept in place throughout the county. Administrators ensure it’s a priority. Students learn they are accountable for their actions and see rewards or discipline depending on their behavior.
School must be a place where there can be enjoyment during the learning process that prepares students for their lives ahead. Students, teachers, parents, administrators and the people in the community must all be involved in creating this positive environment — where there is no place for bullying.
We welcome the new policy and trust that it will be well implemented throughout West Virginia.