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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 12:30 am | Fair 46º


School Officials Revisit Policies on Student Bullying, Harassment

Recent youth suicides nationwide bring to the forefront local efforts to foster 'a culture of integrity, respect and responsibility'

All students deserve to come to school and feel safe and included, Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske told the Santa Barbara school board Tuesday night.

Each Santa Barbara secondary district school has anti-bullying and anti-harassment programs, policies and training in place, but “we recognize that the system we have is not perfect,” she said.

The school board requested a presentation on harassment prevention before the recent nationwide attention given to the subject in the wake of several tragic youth suicides, especially among young people who were bullied as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

School staff have indicated bullying as a problem in surveys, and La Colina Junior High School Principal David Ortiz said it’s gone from a concern, to a problem, to an issue.

Principals and athletic directors attended the meeting, in which Ortiz presented an overview of school policies and methods needed to cut down on bullying and harassment.

“We need to build a culture of integrity, respect and responsibility at the schools,” he said, adding that the focus is on secondary schools, and students need to be taught what to do when bullying and harassment come into their world. “It’s here, folks, and we need to do something about it.”

Ortiz said training staff to identify bullying and to build relationships with students can help end the “code of silence,” the problem of victims and bystanders being afraid to come forward.

The board lamented the recent suicides among bullied youths, saying attention needs to be paid to behavior outside of the school environment as well.

“We know it doesn’t stop at the schoolhouse door,” board member Susan Deacon said.

Just Communities program manager Alena Marie spoke to the board and thanked members Annette Cordero and Kate Parker for attending Monday night’s vigil for the bullied students who took their own lives.

One of the most profound areas that needs addressing is sexual orientation and gender identity, she said. Even in anti-bullying programs, LGBTQ students aren’t mentioned, which she said condones the way they’re targeted.

A gay/straight alliance can be helpful at secondary schools even if no one attends meetings as it creates a more accepting environment, especially if there are supportive staff members.

Cordero said there needs to be a focus on year-round programs, not just in the early months.

“The kids hear taunts and slurs on a daily basis, so they need to hear the antidote on a daily basis,” she said.

Click here for mor more information on each junior high and high school’s anti-bullying and harassment prevention programs.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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