Kids are going to be spending a lot of time staring at screens this school year, but just because they are learning remotely doesn’t mean the typical childhood adversities, like bullying, stop.
Add in the changes being called for by the Black Lives Matter movement, many schools are pressed to update their harassment policies to properly handle bias incidents.
Children and young adults are not shielded from the effects of racism, be it insults, racial slurs or other hurtful comments.
But does that behavior count as bullying or something else? And how do school districts deal with students and these troubling behaviors?
At Williamsburg-James City County Schools, this behavior falls into the harassment category, according to the division’s 2020-2021 Student Code of Conduct.
WJCC spokeswoman Eileen Cox in an email referred WYDaily to the several other policies and the handbook.
She said there was a series of updates to the handbook from last year’s version such as matching the bullying and cyber bullying clause to the state’s definition and changing their harassment and discrimination part in the student code.
“Harassment/Discrimination has been revised with input from legal counsel to reflect the definition in Policy JB, Nondiscrimination/Equal Educational Opportunities based upon the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, national origin, citizenship/immigration status, weight, gender, gender identify, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, or any other characteristics protected by law,” Cox wrote.
Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for the York County School Division, said prohibition against harassment and retaliation have been included in the division’s policy for several years.
Bullying is considered an unwanted behavior intended to harm, hurt, or humiliate, per the code of Virginia, Goff said. Harassment has an even lower standard.
“Harassment does not have to be repeated over time or represent an imbalance of power. Any racial, ethnic, gender-based, or comment based on a protected class can be added as a harassment issue,” Goff wrote in an email.
In the WJCC Students Rights & Responsibilities section, the district notes every students has the right to a free, public education “unimpaired because of gender, race, religion, national origin, or disability.”
If a student were to violate the harassment/discrimination policy there is a range of consequences — Level 1 to Level 5. Pre-K through fifth grade students start at Level 1 with the highest punishment at Level 4 while students in middle and high school, grades 6-12, start at Level 2 with the highest consequence at Level 5.
“Harassment means conduct that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a student’s academic or professional performance or creating a hostile academic environment,” according to the policy statement in the WJCC handbook. “These complaint procedures apply to harassment of students carried out by employees, students, or third parties.”
Some examples are graffiti containing “racially offensive language,” name calling, jokes or rumors, physical aggression or written material either posted or circulated “which intimidates or threatens individuals on a basis prohibited by law.”
If there is a complaint, the student files a report within 15 days of the incident. The complaint is investigated “as soon as practicable,” a maximum time of 20 school days once it is received by the school’s compliance officer, according to the complaint procedure.
The officer notifies the student and the other parties involved and once the investigation is complete, sends a written report to the superintendent, who has the final say if the person(s) violated the school’s policies and what the consequences are for doing so.
If the complaint involves the superintendent, then the report shall be sent to the school board. The report shall include a determination of whether the allegations are substantiated, whether the policy was violated and recommendations for corrective action, if any.
Level 1 includes notifying parents and after school detention; Level 2 has the student losing bus privileges and doing in-school suspension and Level 3 is out of school suspension, one to three days for PreK-3 and one to 10 days grades 4-12.
Both Level 4 and Level 5 consequences are the same requiring a report to the superintendent.
“Ten-day out-of-school suspension with an automatic referral for a disciplinary hearing with recommendation for long-term suspension,” the WJCC handbook states. You can read the full list of consequences for each level here.
Cox said the 2020-2021 Code of Student Conduct was approved in the summer and if the board were to change a policy, it would have to be reviewed by the policy review committee.
Virginia code states the school divisions have to be reviewed every five years but Cox said it’s more of an ongoing process where WJCC reviews it monthly.
The school district has a new chief operating officer, Daniel Keever, set to join in September so Cox said Policy JB will be added to the policy committee agenda once he arrives.
“In the short term, there is not anything on there until his arrival,” she said.
To prevent future bias incidents, York County School Division adopted a five-year plan back in 2017. It was developed by the Virginia Department of Education’s Virginia Tiered Systems of Supports, a data-informed decision making framework meant to help establish academic, behavioral, and social-emotional supports needed to make schools a positive learning environment for all students.
Two results should come out of that plan. Each school will develop cultural learning opportunities that help prepare students to engage with the diverse populations in the local and global community by the end of August of 2020.
Staff will also implement programs and protocols to reduce behavior referrals and out-of-school suspensions by 2022. These protocols will have a focus on reducing exclusionary practices and disproportionality.
“Division policies are reviewed at least every four years,” Goff said. “As new laws are passed, new guidance is provided by the state or a need arises, policies may be updated more frequently.”
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