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Bullying: evaluating private school policies

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Each year in January, the private school application process begins to intensify. As they arrange for their children to undergo the necessary testing and formal evaluation, parents may become focused on the question of how well their children will “measure up” to their preferred schools’ admission criteria.

However, parents of children with special needs must be careful to remember that school application, selection and "fit" determination are two-way processes. Because of the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of children with special needs, their parents must take great care to perform their own due diligence to confirm that their target schools maintain a school environment which is safe, nurturing and conducive to both academic achievement and continuing social emotional development.

Why Bullying Policies Matter
A school’s approach to problems with bullying and teasing is an important consideration. Often, parents are considering a switch to private school environment because of bad experiences which their children have had with bullying from peers in the public schools. The PACER Center, Inc.’s National Bullying Prevention initiative states that all U.S. research on bullying shows that children with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than children who do not have disabilities. http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/

What Parents Need to Know
For the physical and emotional safety of their children, parents must find out what each prospective school’s bullying policy is and how well it’s being executed. Important questions to ask include the following:

1. Does the prospective school have a written policy for how it handles bullying?
2. How does the school’s policy define bullying: does its definition cover both physical and verbal encounters, threats and other forms of harassment?
3. What is the geographic scope of the school’s policy? In other words, to what extent does it apply to incidents which occur beyond school walls, e.g., on the school bus or in the virtual world of social media?
4. Does the school’s policy include a formal process for reporting bullying incidents?
5. Who within the school administration is responsible for responding to reports of bullying?
6. Does the school policy require notification of parents of all students who are identified as being involved in bullying incidents (both alleged bullies and their victims) as part of the school’s investigation of bullying reports?
7. How does the school monitor trends in bullying on campus and proactively seek to prevent bullying incidents?
8. What disciplinary and remedial action(s) does the school’s policy require that administrators take toward students in those instances when the school’s investigations prove allegations of bullying?
9. Under school policy, what protections, counseling and/or other resources are to be made available to students who are victims of bullying?
10. Does the school’s policy require that the head of school report to the school’s governing body (trustee board) on bullying occurrences and the administration’s response to them?

Benchmarking Against the Public School Systems
How does the prospective school’s bullying policy compare to that of the school in which the child is currently enrolled? It’s important to find out how transparent a school’s administration is willing to be about how effective it is in identifying, addressing, and disclosing bullying problems.

Does the private school’s bullying policies compare favorably to those of the local public schools? For benchmarking, see the links below for information on bullying policies for selected school systems in the DC Metro area:

District of Columbia Public Schools
Policy and Reporting: http://dc.gov/DCPS/In+the+Classroom/Health+and+Wellness/Parent+Resources/Bullying+Prevention+in+DCPS

Montgomery County Public Schools
Policy: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/policy/pdf/jhf.pdf
Bullying Report form: http://montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/forms/230-35.shtm

Prince George’s County Public Schools
Policy: http://www.pgcps.org/~procedur/5000/5143.pdf
Bullying Report Form: http://www1.pgcps.org/antibullying/

Fairfax County Public Schools
Policy: http://www.fcps.edu/dss/ips/ssaw/violenceprevention/bullyprevention.shtml
School Forms: http://www.fcps.edu/forms.shtml

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