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Palm Coast Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 1 year ago

School District implements new procedures after bullying incidents at Matanzas High School

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The district is making sure school leaders are properly trained in maintaining records of bullying complaints.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

It all started in sixth grade, when Ashley Stuart’s friendship with one of her schoolmates soured. The former friend, a girl about the same age, started hassling Ashley. 

The bullying — which was ultimately documented by the Flagler County School District and resulted in the bully’s removal from school — continued all the way through last year, when Ashley was in 11th grade. But, with help from the school district, the worst of it has ended, and Ashley’s family prompted the district to implement new procedures for handling bullying.

Although the bullying from a former friend and a small group of other girls had lasted for years, Ashley said, the schools she attended, Indian Trails Middle School and Matanzas High School, hadn’t been keeping records of her family’s complaints. Things came to a head last year.

“Last year was the worst,” Ashley said.  “They would follow me down a hallway. ... They’d walk past me and laugh at me at lunch. I’ve been followed into  the bathroom.”

In one instance, said Ashley’s father, Jeff Stuart, Ashley called her mother from the bathroom after the group of girls followed her in, picking on her and calling her names. 

“She called her mother on the cell phone, and my wife could hear the kids laughing and saying stuff,” he said. 

Mostly, he said, the bullying had been verbal. In a couple of instances, the other girls would hip-check her as she walked down the hallway. 

Ashley was afraid for her safety. And she made complaints to the school, as did her parents, Jeff Stuart said. 

“Usually things calmed down a few days after, and then it would go back to the same,” he said. 

So Jeff Stuart contacted Tim King — the school district administrator who handles discipline — to hold a meeting, only to find that Indian Trails and Matanzas hadn’t kept clear records of the family’s repeated complaints. 

“We learned at that meeting that there were no documented instances of any of the previous contacts that we had made,” he said. “So from sixth grade to 11th grade, there was no documentation. ... I was pretty frustrated that the school had not kept records of that stuff.”

But the family’s contact with King, King said, led the district to implement procedural changes this past October, when the district updated its policy on bullying, to make sure that reports of bullying are properly handled. 

“What we started doing, especially after me working through that incident, was closer monitoring of the reports that come through — making sure we have those documented,” King said.

King acknowledged that the schools had previously not kept sufficient records. The district’s new policy, he said, lays out specific steps for administrators to keep records on bullying reports, investigate them, and report them to the district.

“It gives all of the follow-through. ...  It’s explicit in detail,” he said. “It wasn’t anybody’s intention previously to not have everything be transparent, but this new policy makes it transparent from step one. There’s no guess work.”

Under the new policy, when someone reports bullying, King said, schools take a formal report and start an investigation, which must be completed within 10 days.

“Schools then send to me the initial report form, so that I know that they’re starting a bullying investigation,” he said. “I place it into a binder here, and then within 10 days, that (bullying) investigation needs to be complete.”

 

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