Triple Prevention Measures in Schools

School LockerNORTHEAST KINGDOM - Bullying, harassment, and hazing. These are three big issues being tackled under one new legislative bill.

Vermont lawmakers are proposing a bill that would ensure that all Vermont schools have a bullying, harassment, and hazing policy in place. The bill is the first that combines all three issues and includes guidelines to follow if an incident occurs.

Representative Howard Crawford, who is Chair of the Vermont House Education Committee, and Dean of Students at St. Johnsbury Academy, explains a policy like it, that was out in place by St. Johnsbury Academy.

"Rather than putting three different paragraphs in our handbook. Okay, let's see. Am I being harassed, bullied, or hazed?  Who knows, but you know you are getting picked on. So mine (Academy) just has a general statement that effects all three," said Crawford.

Most schools have bullying, harassment, and hazing policies, but they are typically separate, which makes it difficult for guidance counselors and school administrators to distinguish which situations should be considered with what offense.

"If we had someone come in and say, 'I have been harassed or I have been bullied,' we would do the investigation based on what they said that happened, and sometimes we would not find harassment, but bullying. But because it was a harassment investigation, we would find no fault. I welcome the new policy, " said Guidance Counselor, Timothy White.

These three issues are prominent in today's culture, with the growth of technology and the Internet. Students are posting videos of bullying happening on the bus, at school, and is becoming a source of viral entertainment.

A movie entitled, "Bully," has made national attention, due to it being rated 'R'. People across the United States are protesting it should be rated lower, so youth who deal with these issues are able to see the movie.

The state of Vermont has had it's fair share of bullied victims. 13 year-old, Ryan Halligan in 2003, alleged bullying situations at South Burlington High School, Death Row 35 "gang" in Lyndonville, and a bus bullying incident at Missiquoi Valley Union High School, are all examples of incidents state-wide.

First year, Co-principal at Danville School, Noah Noyes, says having a define set of criterias for all schools helps clear any grey areas. "Providing a statute that makes it clears as what qualifies as bullying and harassment, so it's consistent across all schools, and it's clear to parents, to schools' staff, and students. We don't use the terms loosely. We use them in the right situations and we have a set criteria of what qualifies and what doesn't."

The policy being proposed is designed for aftermath situations, but Noyes says the most important step is the prevention measures through education.

"The more education we provide, the more proactive we are, the less we have to deal with this stuff. It's not fun for everyone to deal with this. But schools have the responsibility to keep everyone safe," said Noyes.

"I think we all have got to acknoledge the nature and severity of the problem, make the commitment to improve the situation, and all play our respective parts to do that," said Vermont Attorney General, Bill Sorrell.

The bill has passed through the House and is now in it's final stages in the Senate.

Crawford says he sees this bill passing in the upcoming weeks and could be enacted into law by this summer.