New Hampshire schools are scrambling to comply with the state’s new anti-bullying policy, a mandate set by the state Board of Education that went into effect Jan. 1.
In Portsmouth, officials adopted such a policy, spurred on by the plight of a sixth-grader attacked while walking after school. And in Newmarket, the school board plans to add bullying to its harassment policy sometime this month.
“We already had a harassment policy in place and we have recognized the increase, it seems, in bullying in general,” said Superintendent Denis Joy. “Society is experiencing that. People trying to show they are better than or bigger than seems to be an increasing issue with young kids.”
Commissioner Nicholas Donohue’s directive was prompted by a new law that requires school boards to adopt student safety and violence policies.
The model policy defines bullying as “conduct [that] subjects a pupil to insults, taunts, or challenges, whether verbal or physical in nature, which are likely to intimidate or provoke a violent or disorderly response from the student being treated in this manner.”
The model also includes a notification policy, which says school officials should make pupils and staff aware of the measure in student and employee handbooks.
“Bullying has been with us for a long time,” said the state Board of Education chairman, John Lewis. “This is all about good policies that could limit the possibility of real violence in schools.”
The National Association of School Psychologists says 160,000 children skip school every day out of fear of being bullied.
“About 10 percent of kids in a typical year are bullying victims,” said David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center.
Researchers say bullying causes lasting harm. A report in the July issue of Current Opinions in Psychiatry found that name-calling can severely affect children’s mental and physical health.
Bullying can also trigger violence. Last spring, a mother of two Connecticut elementary schoolboys was accused of arming her sons with a hammer and a screwdriver to fend off bullies. And a Florida father fired a gun in a busy high school parking lot at a student who had tussled with his 16-year-old son over a hat.