By Audrey Richardson
Special To The Standard
HARTLAND — As a new wave of harassment techniques via the media have changed the school bully game, Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union is keeping up with the times after recently completing a policy audit specifically updating harassment policies. These changes will help Hartland Elementary School’s code of conduct to be clearer and help curb incidents of bullying and harassment happening in and outside the school.
Earlier in the school year, HES principal Judy Callens and Dean of Students Kevin Cox noticed an outcropping of disappointing social behavior among students. And although Callens admits that bullying is nothing new, she is determined to meet such behavior with strict discipline. In October, Callens made note of a rash of questionable behaviors in her blog to parents. These behaviors included writing inappropriate words on the bus seats, “scoop dunking” girls’ chests, calling each other gay, making comments of a sexual nature about each other’s bodies. “This has been a slowly growing problem over the years and schools are held to a much higher standard now,” said Callens of such incidents.
Callens and Cox reached out to parents in her blog for help in hope that parents will monitor what their children are watching and participating in at home. In her October blog address to parents Callens stated, “We also need your help in teaching your children that there are different standards for acceptable behaviors in different environments such as school. I ask that you all take a look at YouTube and some of the MTV shows that your children are watching.”
Callens believes that not all, but many of these behaviors are learned and encouraged by television shows such as Two and a Half Men and social media such as YouTube and Facebook. “When I was in school it was rock ‘n roll — adolescence is a really foggy time, and it’s difficult to learn what is appropriate and inappropriate,” said Callens about student behavior.
For Callens, this is not a new issue, but a frustrating trend that she and Cox hope to put to an abrupt end by rigorously implementing the school’s policies.
Callens believes issues regarding bullying and harassment have evolved, and that in the past, ideas of what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior were more “widespread” or universally understood. Callens also maintains that schools have a much higher standards then ever before. Callens said one point of confusion for students is that social standards of appropriate conduct are far lower than those mandated by the state for Vermont schools.
“The prudent response to this is to talk to parents and invite them to take part in resolving the issue,” said Callens.
Although the policy audit conducted late last year is unrelated to the recent harassment issues at HES, the way these issues are dealt with is more explicitly spelled out for Southeast Supervisory schools.
“Our new harassment policy is simply an update. We needed to tweak ours,” explained Windsor Southeast Superintentdent Tom Christensen. Christensen said that very little had actually changed in school, however there were some minor changes in wording. Changes in wording mostly surrounded the active harassment that takes place outside of school, often known as cyber bullying, and how that is to be dealt with on school grounds. The state of Vermont gives schools the authority to deal with harassment issues that happen off of school ground that may carry over and affect student learning. And although Christensen says he has not noticed any issues with cyber bullying in his schools, the new policy reflects the administration’s intolerance of this new form of harassment.
Both Callens and Christensen say they feel confident that they are prepared to deal with a new wave of harassment issues and maintain that their schools are following high standards. However, they both agree that parent involvement and monitoring is pertinent and helps to improve the school environment.
By Audrey Richardson