By Doug Oakley
Berkeley's school board unanimously passed an "anti-bullying" policy Wednesday night, an action with roots in last year's swarm of gun incidents at Berkeley High School.
The district overhauled security precautions at two high schools following seven arrests of students bringing guns on campus. In one incident, a shot was fired in a bathroom but no one was injured.
The new policy defines bullying as "systematic and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress" on students or employees and can be in person, online or via telephone. It also requires adults to report it if they see it and principals to investigate.
But it leaves it up to principals what punishment is appropriate.
The policy, which takes an every-situation-is-different approach, tells principals they must come up with a punishment for bullying that is "age appropriate and equal to the severity of the violation."
Suspension, expulsion and calling the police are possible outcomes.
The policy was first considered as part a package of security reforms at Berkeley High following the gun incidents but was spun off and given its own public forum.
Bringing a gun to school is at the extreme end of bullying behavior, said the school district's director of student services, Susan Craig.
"If you look at the continuum of bullying from an annoyance on up to something that is deeply pervasive, intimidating and violent, bringing a gun to school is at the top of the tier," Craig said.
On the flip side of that is students who bring guns to school for protection.
"Students who bring weapons to school often say they do so because they feel unsafe in the community or they feel threatened," Craig said. "But I don't want to make the connection that students who are bullied are likely to bring a gun."
School district superintendent Bill Huyett said during the meeting Wednesday night that bullying investigations should not be taken lightly.
"All interviews of the witnesses, the victim and the accused person should be done separately," Huyett said. "And we have an obligation to inform the aggressive parties that we will protect the victims. We are highly successful in doing that in our schools."
In addition, the policy forbids bullying around a person's "perceived sex, gender, transgender or gender-identity."
Judy Appel, executive director of Our Family Coalition, a group that promotes equality for lesbian and gay families with children, said she likes the policy.
"There is the belief that in order for our kids to learn they have to know they are in a safe and welcoming and inclusive environment," Appel said. "But the devil is in the details and we'll see how it gets implemented at the school site."
Craig said the district will train principals and vice principals first on the new policy, then notify parents via a newsletter and then principals will tell their staff about the new policy.
Each school also must make an annual report to school district administrators in June detailing bullying incidents at the school."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.