Bullying on Cape Cod, the law may be the problem

A conversation with Cape Cod school superintendents and principals
Each school's rules vary, no reported cases may indicate law's failure

By Jerry Rogovin and other staff members

 Cape Bullying Policies by School
       Don't be a fool - tell your school

- Nauset
- Harwich
- CC Lighthouse
- Dennis-
- Barnstable
- Sandwich
- Chatham
- Provincetown
- Sturgis
- Mashpee
- CC Tech
- Upper Cape Tech
- CC Collaborative

            Or write a Letter to the Editor.

Surveys indicate that half of all children and adolescents are physically or verbally bullied at one time or another during their school years, and at least one in 10 is bullied on a regular basis.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). That suffering can interfere with their social development as well as school performance, according to the AACAP, which is made up of 7,500 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are medical doctors.

  • A law passed last August by the state of New Jersey, pushed by the public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, demands the adoption of comprehensive anti-bullying policies by all public schools. A response to the student's harassment, which pushed his action rather than continue to endure such punishment, is indicative of the impact of bullying on society today.
  • A year ago this week bullying forced Provincetown school officials to transfer two local girls to Nauset Middle School and reduced the Veterans Memorial Elementary School's sixth grade class size from six to four.
  • A survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,002 girls and 963 boys from public and private schools nationwide whether they had experienced any of various forms of sexual harassment.

The anti-bullying laws on Cape Cod

Massachusetts adopted similar legislation 16 months earlier that has been implemented on Cape Cod and the Islands by public school districts, private and charter schools.

The legislation governing bullying that is now part of the state's General Laws spells out how anti-bullying policies are to be addressed and implemented.  But many parents say that the near total absence of reported cases on Cape Cod prove how inadequate the present law's required actions are, see the Attorney General's remarks below.

Within the present framework, a town creates its own policies and plan, according to Paul Mangelinkx, principal of Chatham High School and developer of the plan followed by Chatham and Harwich.

"All plans are not alike," he said. "Municipalities get to add the details. The state tells us what needs to be done, and prescribes what we can do with a lot of boilerplate language.

"There is no question that social networking has complicated the process of dealing with bullying."
         - Dr. Carolyn Cragin.

"We take it from there to determine what we can do when an incident occurs," Mangelinkx said. "Our schools' attorneys interpreted the state mandate for our system. I wrote a draft that the State Department of Elementary & Secondary Education approved. Then our superintendent, principals and teachers worked out the details.

"Bullying has been with us forever. But it's different today," he said. "When I was a youngster -- I'm now 64 -- someone snapped a towel at you in the locker room. Or there was
horseplay in a corridor. Or someone put your name on a bathroom wall. It was more physical. Today it starts at home or in the community, on Facebook or a home computer.

"Even if it starts outside, or isn't physical, it's still in the schools' jurisdiction. It's difficult to know where bullying starts. So the schools join with parents and, when necessary, with our police and the courts to investigate," Mangelinkx said.

"All of us take bullying seriously, so someone has to pay the consequences. Kids and parents have to know this," he added.

Dr. Carolyn Cragin, Superintendent of the Harwich public schools, observed, "There is no question that social networking has complicated the process of dealing with bullying. Additionally, the ease of communication and the public sharing what in the past was private has created confusion among young people about what is appropriate social inter-

Chatham's and Harwich's public schools will remain in their own districts until next July, when they become part of the new Monomoy Regional School District. School committees in both towns are at work developing anti-bullying policies and plans for the regional district, said Cragin. She will become the superintendent for it on July 1, 2012.

Michael Gradone is Chatham's interim superintendent. He came out of retirement as assistant superintendent after 34 years in the Nauset Regional School District.

Gradone described the program currently employed by Harwich and Chatham once disciplinary action has been decided upon. It involves holding conferences with parents; transferring students from classrooms or schools; limiting or denying students access to parts of a school building; increasing adult supervision on school premises; excluding students from participating in school-sponsored or school-related functions, after-school programs and extracurricular activities.

"Bullying takes many forms. But technology has added a new element. There's almost no place to avoid bullying today. As a consequence, we're being more challenged in protecting our youngsters. It's sometimes difficult to tell what is bullying, and what is not."
                - Michael Cozort.

The approach in even smaller systems is similar. Nantucket's three schools work within a 14-page plan enforced by principals and assistant principals, according to Michael Cozort.

"Bullying takes many forms. But technology has added a new element," he noted. \There's almost no place to avoid bullying today. As a consequence, we're being more 

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