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Gainesville schools extends scope of anti-bullying rule
New policy references harm done through text messages, social media
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Gainesville City Schools approved a new policy on bullying Monday that expands the definition to include bullying through new media forms. It also would ban it at all school levels.

School systems are required to adopt anti-bullying polices by August 2011 under a bill passed by the state legislature.

“The new policy is very specific to what is considered to be bullying,” said Elfreda Lakey, assistant superintendent of human resources and operations.

Physical, emotional and social harassment are defined under the new rules. Hostile and threatening text messages and posts on websites like Facebook could all be construed as bullying under the proposal, Lakey said.

The plan calls for school systems to ban bullying at all schools, not just for grades sixth-12th, and to have age-appropriate consequences.

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said for each reported case, the school will direct an immediate investigation and notify parents of the accused bully and the victim.

The policy also includes “three strikes,” just as Georgia’s 1999 anti-bullying legislation did. After three bullying offenses, students will face a tribunal and may be sent to an alternative school.

Reports of bullying in Gainesville have been low in recent months, Dyer said. She adds that most of the incidents occur on school buses.

Lakey said she believes bullying is a rapidly growing problem in the U.S., which is cause for new legislation.

According to a survey by the Georgia Student Health Survey, 16 percent of students reported being bullied at school in the last 30 days. About 33 percent said they were picked on or teased in the last 30 days.

Dyer said the policy emphasizes following up after reports of bullying, including providing counseling for bullies and their victims.

The Georgia Department of Education released guidelines earlier this year that contain a model policy for school systems.

The school board also looked at a number of other policies Monday night, and approved a new restraint policy.

Educators will be authorized to use physical restraint if a student isn’t responsive to verbal directives or other de-escalation techniques.

The rules state the restraint must be immediately terminated when the student is no longer a danger.

Earlier this year, the Georgia Board of Educators limited the use of certain methods of restraint to calm misbehaving students, including banning mechanical restraint, most often seen as strapping children to chairs. Seclusion rooms also were banned.

The new policy states that parents must be notified if restraint is used.

Lakey said certified staff will receive training to respond to bullying and to administer proper restraint by the end of the year.