Highland County School Board Seeks Input on Report of Bullying, Harassment, or Discrimination Policy

In the April 11 meeting of the Highland County School Board, Dr. Drew Maerz submitted verbiage changes to the bullying, harassment, or discrimination policy, which is now up for public review on the website. The big change streamlines the reporting form for all three and makes some verbiage changes to match the student handbook, but the overall feelings surrounding bullying, harassment, and discrimination are being discussed well beyond the borders of Highland County.

On the commonwealth level, members of the General Assembly sent the governor a bill last month that would create special protections against bullying at public schools for groups that have the highest rates of victimization. 

The governor is amending the bill to remove the special protections that cover sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability status. Victoria Cobb at the Family Foundation says the governor’s amendment makes the bill better.

“So, this amendment seeks to simply say that bullying is wrong and not worry about why someone is being bullied but instead focus on the actor and the action.”

But others disagree, including Delegate Joshua Cole, a Democrat from Fredericksburg who introduced the bill and says the special protected categories came right from existing state law.

“That’s why we included the language from the Virginia Human Rights Act – LGBTQ, people of color, people with disabilities – anything like that, we wanted to make sure they were protected. And the governor’s amendment seriously waters it down.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of 5 students between the ages of 12 and 18 is bullied every year. Of those students who are bullied, 15 percent are also being bullied via text messaging, email, and social media. These statistics show that approximately 46 percent of students who are being bullied tell their parents or teachers. Unfortunately, the same statistics show many children are reluctant to tell anyone because they are embarrassed about being bullied and they don’t want to be labeled a “tattletale.” Additionally, many students report even if they tell their schools nothing is done and the bullying and retaliation tends to increase instead of decrease. 

Highland County Public Schools did include an ask for increased funding in the upcoming budget to cover the cost of an additional counselor in the school to help combat mental health issues within the school and further support strategies that children can employ in the face of bullying and harassment. 

Our thanks to Virginia Public Radio for help with reporting on this story.

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Brit Chambers

Brit Chambers is a resident of Highland County, Virginia and a news reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio. She loves living in a small town and relishes the outdoor adventures and community feeling that Highland has to offer. Brit has a background in journalism, marketing, and public relations and spends her free time reading good books, baking sourdough bread, and hiking with her family.

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