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Part Three: Are Tuolumne County Schools Safe?

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Sonora, CA — In the final installment of our three-story series this week addressing school safety and cyber bullying in Tuolumne County schools, Clarke Broadcasting queries the county’s top education administrator.

Below, Superintendent Margie Bulkin, from her perspective at the County Office of Education helm, shares how her department and the state are addressing these issues as they continue to evolve.

As the district school heads interviewed for this week’s earlier articles indicated, assisting with their schools’ Internet security and related curricula are among the ways that Bulkin’s office provides a support network to all of the districts.

In terms of overall school safety, Bulkin notes that every school district has to adopt a “school safety plan” every March, a ripe time to fill any newly exposed gaps that may have been revealed in school policies. “With the safety of students being so primary to the practice of running a school on a day to day basis, it is a very important document that creates a backbone for policy and procedure that is worthy of review every single year,” she states. Sharing the safety plans, such as posting them online so that they are accessible to the community at large not only provides reassurance that a school is safe for students, according to Bulkin, it also makes the plans publicly known.

Referencing the Sonora High cyber-bullying incident that occurred at the end of the last school year, which climaxed in a physical attack on the victim by a hooded assailant in a school locker room, Bulkin states, “These incidents, however unfortunate, are a constant reminder to keep those things up to date…and…proliferated so that everyone understands what the rules are.”

State Ed Code Changes Coming

For security matters as it pertains to student discipline, she points to the state’s Education Code. What used to be “Section 48 900 (a)-through-(f),” Bulkin says, has expanded much further down the alphabet (currently at “w”). This she notes, is largely due to the growing sophistication of intimidating and threatening actions that are termed “electronic acts of misconduct through technology.” Besides adding new disciplinary codes, she states that a single-word change to Ed Code 48 900 coming in January of 2016 will amend a phrase from “creation and transmission” of an electronic act so that it reads “creation or transmission.” This one, seemingly tiny edit will exponentially increase students’ culpability for cyber-bullying; that simply by sharing a hurtful or harmful message written by someone else, a student or students will become subject to a range of disciplinary measures that include suspension.

Governor Jerry Brown approved AB 881, an act to amend the Education Code as such, back in July. For the amended text, click here.

Certainly, as Bulkin states, “It takes away the argument that a student must have created both [actions].” Elaborating, she continues, “So, if I am the recipient of something that was intimidating on say, a cellphone and I pass it along, this new addition…allows a student to be disciplined, just for passing it along; whereas before, just this year, you had to do both.” It is a given that related laws will continue to mutate in order to maintain pace with the evolution of ways one may cause harm through misusing technology.

To say the least, “It’s been a difficult task to keep up with,” Bulkin admits. Too, “Unless the [school] board policies are updated, you cannot discipline a child for something they have done that is not enumerated in the Ed Code or the board policy,” she adds. Typically, however, each district’s school board updates its policies in tandem with the Ed Code whose amendments often reflect new laws.

Electronic Misconduct: ‘The New Prevalence’

In tandem with all the positives that an tech driven 21st century education delivers, Bulkin says, electronic misconducts by students have become “the new prevalence” everywhere in education. Along with being time-consuming for administrators to wrestle with as well as very difficult to track, she says these issues become even more complex as they necessitate the careful blending of due process and discerning between students’ freedom of free speech and where the potential exists to hurt or harm someone.

Besides plans and policies, Bulkin says awareness and understanding are needed to help maintain a zero tolerance and that students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members all play a part.

The California Department of Education curates a selection of publications and resources on its website to help people recognize and respond to bullying behaviors. To access them, click here.

Below are some student and parent strategies, extrapolated from one of the above mentioned resources, “Preventing Bullying,” created as a manual for schools and communities by the Department of Education in Washington, DC.

Anti-Bullying Tips For Students and Parents

–Seek immediate help from an adult; report bullying/victimization incidents to school personnel

–Speak up and or offer support to a victim and privately offer kindness and condolence

–Express disapproval by not joining in laughter, teasing or spreading rumors or gossip

–Attempt to defuse issues, either singlehandedly or within a group by telling a bully to “cool it”

–Parents, foster children’s confidence and independence and be able to take action when needed

–Make sure your child, if he or she is being victimized, knows that there is nothing wrong with them and they do not in any way deserve such treatment

–Do not fault your child’s social skills; realize that your child is entitled to courteous and respectful treatment from others

–Call the school and work with personnel to address the issues

–Realize that parents of bullies may have a lack of parental involvement and may not be helpful to confront; talking with bullies themselves may signal that your child is a weakling to the bully

–Do not encourage your child to be aggressive or strike back at bullies but teach them to be assertive, perhaps even use humor to help diffuse, instead of being passively acceptant of the mistreatment

–If a problem persists or escalates, an attorney’s help or local law enforcement officials may need to be contacted

Click here for the Part One story in our series, which queries county high school superintendents; click here for Part Two, in which Clarke Broadcasting reaches out to interview local elementary school administrators.