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New Law Pushes Back on School Bullies

NORWALK, Conn. — Schools across the state are taking steps to tackle bullying in schools, on buses and online. A revised law signed last month by Gov. Dannel Malloy requires that every member of the school staff, from the principal to the cafeteria worker, immediately report any instance of bullying.

“Creating a safe school environment is critical for kids to learn,” says state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a member of the Education Committee that introduced the bill.

A 2009 state report found that one in four high school students had been bullied on school property. For freshmen, that figure was one in three students.

The law, which was originally passed in 2002 and revised twice, was updated this time to specifically include “cyberbullying” through text messages, email, Facebook and other social media. “Whatever bullying does happen here, happens mainly online,” says John Dodig, principal of Staples High School in Westport.

“The impact of cyberbullying is broader and does more damage,” says Boucher, who also represents parts of New Canaan, Weston and Westport. “This stuff goes viral.”

As part of the law, the entire school staff must receive annual training on bullying. “The staff need to have guidance about this issue and how to discuss it with kids.  It will be good to have various adults supervising,” says Boucher. She credits high school students with casting a light on the seriousness of bullying. “They brought the issue to me,” she says. Boucher singled out Brien McMahon’s Center for Youth Leadership and students at Staples High School.

The Center for Youth Leadership adopted bullying as a major issue in 2008, according to Director Bob Kocienda. A delegation of students went to Hartford in the spring and testified on behalf of the bill. They put special emphasis on the link between bullying and dating violence at the high school level.

In December, two-dozen Staples students hosted a discussion on cyberbullying and Internet safety.  Westport middle school student Alye Pollack helped shine a national spotlight on the when posted a powerful anti-bullying video in March on YouTube.

The law also requires that, by next year, each school district appoint a safe school climate coordinator and each school have a school climate committee to implement and monitor anti-bullying efforts.

On Monday, Norwalk Superintendent Susan Marks held a meeting with administrators to examine bullying policies. “We certainly will be getting information out to parents and students as soon as we can,” she said. “It is also important to provide training to staff as well.”

Staples principal John Dodig said he has reviewed the new legislation and produced a brochure of its important points that will be passed out on the first day of school. He says, however, that nothing in the legislation is new to Staples. “We already talk about it all the time, so its redundant to what we’ve been doing.”

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