New antiharassment and antibullying policies are in place to mark the start of the new school year in Vermont. The laws are meant to clarify what constitutes harassment in schools and how better to handle reported incidents and also to require school boards to update their discipline plan to include the new legislation on bullying. The harassment law introduces a new review process that allows the family lodging the complaint to seek a third party to discover what actions were followed in dealing with the situation.
Because of confidentiality considerations, the old law often left students and their families to wonder how, if at all, the school was dealing with the report of harassment, said Doug Dow, director of Safe and Healthy Schools, a division of the Department of Education. "With the old law, families would not know if the perpetrator was punished or if sanctions were handed out," Dow said. "There was no way to bring closure. Parents and students want to know that."
Dow said it is important for the schools to be familiar with the new policy, adding that there will be training in the coming months to bring administrators up to speed on the new law. Dow noted that the law covers harassment based on race as well as nationality, sexual orientation, gender, creed, marital status, or disability. Gov. James Douglas signed the antibullying measure into law this spring.
The law states that the commissioner of education will distribute an updated model school plan on student discipline by January 1. It also states that by January 15, 2007, the commissioner will report to the Vermont senate and house education committees on the number of reported incidents of bullying gathered by school districts.