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January 06. 2013 1:06AM

Officials say enforcement of anti-bullying law not yet perfect

New Hampshire has a law targeting bullies, but some may not know what it is, and others want it improved.

"There's no question that it's one of the strongest anti-bullying laws on the books in the country," said Carol Croteau of Kingston, who launched the website BullyFreeNH.org and helped craft the law's language. "But I do think some changes could improve some areas and address situations I'm hearing about from parents."

Click here to view RSA 193-F, 'Pupil Safety and Violence Prevention'.

Among the law's requirements, local authorities must determine whether an incident reported is actually a case of bullying. If it is deemed to be, parents of all those involved must be notified within 48 hours.

Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, a sponsor of the anti-bullying legislation, said she has heard from parents who didn't know where to turn when they disagreed with the way a bullying incident was handled.

"One thing I definitely would like to see changed is language added that spells out that the school board is where parents should go if they disagree with a determination ...?."

Croteau agreed. She doesn't think members of local school boards are shirking their responsibilities, but are unaware they should be handling the appeals.

"It's a lack of training about the law that's at fault here," said Croteau. "I don't think administrators are aware of that aspect of the bill."

Mark Joyce, executive director of New Hampshire School Administrators Association, didn't see it that way.

"I think by and large school administrators are doing a good job with it," Joyce said. "It's new, and with anything new, there's a period of adjustment. I think administrators are balancing handling the reports and notifying the parties, while protecting the confidentiality of the students."

The law requires school districts and charter schools to provide informational programs for students and parents in how to identify, prevent, report and respond to incidents of bullying or cyberbullying. It mandates the state Department of Education prepare an annual report of substantiated incidents of bullying or cyberbullying in the schools. And it stipulates that a school principal or designee must develop a response to address any substantiated case, including imposing discipline if appropriate, to reduce the risk of future incidents and, where deemed appropriate, to offer assistance to the victim or perpertrator.

Schlachman would like the law expanded to cover college students.

"I'm hearing that bullying issues follow students to college," said Schlachman. "It affects students of all ages. Older students should be afforded the same protection under the law."

Schlachman has filed a Legislative Service Request (LSR) - a precursor to a formal bill - to create an Anti-Bullying Day in New Hampshire on the second Wednesday in November. The request came after a meeting Dec. 6 with about 16 students involved in the New Hampshire Kids Against Bullying (NHKAB) group at Strafford School in Strafford.

"Having a designated anti-bullying day will serve as a springboard for interested parties to focus more needed attention and resources on the complex problem of bullying," said Richard Kauffman, a guidance counselor at Strafford School who works with the NHKAB group. "A well-publicized anti-bullying day will help to galvanize schools, businesses and community organizations as well as individuals and families to engage in educational programming.''

According to a Department of Education report, during the 2010-11 school year, 5,561 incidents of suspected bullying were reported in New Hampshire, with 2,988 investigated and confirmed.

Among the districts, Manchester had 409 "bullying incidents of any kind" reported. Nashua had 205, Rochester 400, Laconia 85, and Hudson 71. Londonderry had 44, Concord had 25, Bedford had 19 and Colebrook had 11.

Statistics for the 2011-12 school year are being compiled.

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Paul Feely may be reached at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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