Compliance with Conn. anti-bullying law questioned - KCTV5

Compliance with Conn. anti-bullying law questioned

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HARTFORD, CT (AP) -

Roberto has put up with all kinds of abuse from his classmates over the years. The 18-year-old high school senior recently spoke at a state forum on bullying using only his first name, saying his tormentors have called him degrading names, pushed him around and thrown things at him.

He said school staff could be doing more to deal with the bullying problem that afflicts schools nationwide, and the state Commission on Children agrees with him. Commission officials believe many school districts aren't fully complying with the state's 2011 anti-bullying law.

"On some levels I do kind of feel they don't do enough," said Roberto, who is gay and Hispanic - two groups he says are frequent targets of bullies. "Some teachers, you can obviously tell they don't want to hear your story. Some feel it (bullying) is part of high school."

The Commission on Children has received a variety of complaints in recent months on how school officials have handled bullying.

Commission attorney Steven Hernandez said the complaints suggest there are varying levels of implementation of the 2-year-old state law, different interpretations of the requirements and possible underreporting of local bullying data to the state.

The 2011 law expanded the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying and other acts. It also imposed a host of requirements for bullying investigations by school officials, training for all school staff, "safe school climate" bullying prevention plans for all schools and keeping records on bullying episodes and investigations. There are no penalties for failing to comply with the law.

"We're still getting calls from parents about school leaders not being responsive to bullying complaints," said Hernandez, who declined to name the school districts criticized in the complaints. "What we're hearing is that depending on the school, there are varying levels of implementation (of the law) or a reluctance to implement."

Data isn't yet available on which school districts are in full compliance with the law and which are not. The state Department of Education is surveying schools statewide on their anti-bullying actions and compliance with the law for a report it must submit to state lawmakers by February.

The problem of school bullying made state and national news this year when two 13-year-old Torrington girls, who police say were sexually assaulted by members of the high school football team, were subjected to name calling and other crude comments on the Internet.

In March, the Register Citizen of Torrington reported that required record-keeping of bullying acts and investigations varied from school to school in Torrington. The newspaper reported that although the schools were required to keep logs on verified acts of bullying, logs didn't exist at some schools.

Statewide data for the previous school year compiled by the Education Department show that verified bullying incident totals for similar-sized cities and towns varied widely, which Hernandez said could be indicators of different interpretations of the law or a reluctance to report incidents.

Hartford, New Haven and Stamford, for example, have populations in the 120,000 to 130,000 range. While Hartford reported 153 bullying incidents in the 2011-12 school year, New Haven reported 72 and Stamford reported seven.

Stamford Superintendent of Schools Winnie Hamilton said her school district has done a lot of work with bullying prevention plans, but it's unclear why there is such disparity in bullying data from town to town.

"I think that with any new law and any area that people can interpret that there are different approaches," Hamilton said. "Something as new as 2011 needs some time and needs some history. We'll have to see over time what patterns emerge."

Hamilton said there has been some confusion among school officials about what constitutes bullying and what constitutes other wrongdoing, such as harassment.

Statewide, schools reported a grand total of 1,960 bullying episodes last year.

State education officials say they're now gathering data from all schools to see how they're complying with the bullying law.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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