The Half Hollow Hills School District’s intolerance of gay bashing is now spelled out in black in white.
In the process of revising all district policies, the Board of Education has modernized its rules on bullying prevention to specifically prohibit harassment due to one’s sexual preference or gender identity.
The updated version of the anti-bullying policy states, “The harassing behavior may be based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sex, sexual orientation or gender (identity or expression)."
While previous school rules banned students from harassing their peers, the new version of the district policy specifically names gay students as a marginalized group, of which, bullying will not be permitted.
“Now there are more explicit statements as to what is not tolerated. Before we were more general. It’s a much more clear policy,” Board of Education Trustee Eric Geringswald said.
In what used to be thought of as a natural part of growing up, the harmful effects of bullying, especially that which targets gay youth, have recently stepped into the spotlight. Attitudes toward bullying made a dramatic shift when Tyler Clementi leapt from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers University had used a webcam to spy on him with another man. Clementi’s body was discovered seven days later. However, the Rutgers student is just one of 10 young people to commit suicide that year after becoming targets for bullies; two of them were 13 years old.
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Geringswald said that decisions in outlining the anti-bullying policies were partly made from suggestions that came down from New York State, as well as from the desire to have its policies match present social atmospheres.
“We are looking at policies to make sure they are current and reflective of the times we are living in, and not the time when they were written in,” he said.
When it comes to disciplinary action, the consequences vary based on the severity of the harassment. Teachers might handle small issues within their classrooms while more menacing types of bullying or habitual offenders may be faced with school suspensions or intervention of law enforcement, if the behavior rises to the level of criminal activity.
“The benchmark we try to use is based on what the right thing to do is. The right thing is to not be tolerant of any degree of bullying. The updates in the policy nail that down,” he said.
The policy states that students who have either been or witnessed bullying, as well as parents whose children have been bullied, should make a verbal and/or written statement to a teacher, coach, bus driver, social worker, counselor, supervisor or administrator. It reads that from there, complaints will be documented, tracked and handled in accordance.