State schools get orders on anti-bullying plans

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Mississippi school districts are now required to have a policy in place by the end of this calendar year to deal with bullying.
The mandate for Mississippi’s 149 school districts and three agriculture high schools is required in a bill passed by the 2010 Legislature and recently signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour.
“A lot of time we develop regulations and policies to deal with an issue and we put them in a drawer,” said Sen. J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont, the primary author of the anti-bullying legislation. “Then somebody calls or comes around and asks if we have a policy to deal with this or that, and we say we do.
“This bill requires a policy. I want to see these districts adopt a policy and use it.”
Wilemon said he decided to file the bill during the 2010 session because of the numerous reports – both in-state and out-of-state – of bullying-type behavior leading to bad outcomes.
He cited the case in Yazoo County last year where a girl carried a gun on the school bus because she said he had been the victim of bullying.
The bill defines bullying or harassing behavior as placing “a student or school employee in actual and reasonable fear of harm…” and “creates a hostile environment by substantially interfering with or impairing a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits.”
Wilemon said he filed the bill because of various news reports of bullying. But he said he did not know how significant an issue it was for some people until he introduced his legislation.
“I have had several calls thanking me for doing this, telling me their children had been bullied,” he said. “I did not realize it was as big of a problem as people say it is.”
Under the legislation, each district shall “adopt procedures for reporting, investigating and addressing such behavior.”
School employees are required to report bullying “to the appropriate school official.”
Senate Education Chair Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, a career educator, said he believes bullying has gotten worse since he retired from the schools about 12 years ago.
“It was beginning to be more of a problem then,” he said, referring to when he retired from education. “I wish I could put my finger on why it has gotten worse. It just seems to be happening.”
Carmichael said the Wilemon legislation helps make districts aware of what a serious issue bullying can be.
“I know most districts already have a policy,” he said. “This just brings light to the issue and makes sure all districts have a policy.”
Mississippi Attorney Jim Hood has had a School Violence Prevention Guide on the website www.ago.state.ms.us for some time to aid local school districts in identifying problems.
“Our children deserve to go to school in a safe environment, and it is my goal to make sure that happens,” Hood says in the guide.
The guide suggests drop boxes and e-mails as ways for students to report on possible violence and bullying.