Newport-Mesa school board members have officially adopted an anti-bullying policy, one they hope will prevent school violence of the kind that rocked Santana High School in San Diego County last week.
Now officials in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District must figure out how to implement the policy without raising fears among students and parents concerned about rights.
By a 5-1 vote Tuesday night, board members decided to add a section on bullying to the district's discipline policy, known informally as the zero-tolerance policy. The policy could mandate the same suspensions for bullying as for bringing a knife or a beer to school but would more likely result in counseling or parent conferences, Supt. Robert Barbot said.
After a student was choked by another student at Corona del Mar High School last spring, parents requested the policy and even helped write it. Though the education code already addresses most infractions covered under the new bullying policy, parents and administrators wanted to send a message that such actions will not be tolerated.
The process began long before Charles "Andy" Williams, who was reportedly bullied relentlessly, walked onto his Santee campus with a gun, killing two and wounding 13. But parents said they hope the policy will prevent those tragedies by stopping bullying before students feel they must strike back with firearms.
"This is not intended to be punitive," Barbot said. "It's to help both the person who is bullied and the bully."
Administrators will spend the next eight weeks trying to come up with guidelines to define bullying and to let teachers and principals know what to do about it, Barbot said. Suspension and expulsion would be a last resort. Other elements of the anti-bullying campaign will include character education and counseling for bullies. Administrators hope to have the policy in place by the time school starts in the fall.
"We're not saying this policy is a cure-all," Barbot said. "It's not. We're only human. We have to create things we can manage and that are legal."