WCPSS Board unanimously supports amended bullying and discrimination policy

Michael Perchick Image
Thursday, January 19, 2023
New bullying, discrimination policy coming to WCPSS
The Wake County Public School System Board unanimously backed an amended bullying and discrimination policy.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County Public School System Board unanimously backed an amended bullying and discrimination policy during a meeting Tuesday night.

The revised language, which was introduced at a prior meeting, included adding "level of engagement or isolation" as a differentiating characteristic, broadening types of discrimination, harassment and bullying by removing the term "unlawful" from the definition, and clarifying that "a student's discomfort with classroom topics, classroom discussion, or classroom management is not, by itself, harassment or bullying."

Despite the changes, Holly Atkins, who is the founder and president of the non-profit Hope for Teens and a mother of a Wake County High School student, believes the policy remains too broad.

"I think that the cyberbullying that they wish to address really needs to be handled on a specific level. Children are bullied and teens are bullied for various different reasons whether it be their sexuality, whether it be the way that they look. And you just can't pinpoint a general overarching rule and say this applies to everyone," Atkins explained.

Instead, she believes it's important to specifically address different types of bullying.

"The way you handle physical bullying as it relates to size is very different than how you handle bullying from a sexual orientation perspective, and being able to understand the differences in how you handle those is going to be something they need to do moving forward," said Atkins.

Atkins backs taking a more proactive approach in broaching the subject.

"Training your teachers to understand how big of a problem this is and school administrators as well," said Atkins, who supported instilling lessons about the subject for young students.

A 2019 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics found one in five students reported being bullied, with actions ranging from insults to exclusion from activities to even physical violence.

"I dealt with bullying while I was growing up in Ohio. I was at the point where I'd hide out in the school bathrooms," said Virgie Townsend, a southeast Raleigh mother of three who serves as CEO of Teens United No Judgement.

Townsend said two of three children also experienced bullying while at Wake County Public Schools.

"She had some girls who were bullying her quite badly so she actually left Wake County Public Schools, and I put her in a private school," Townsend said.

Townsend spent the past few years working with developers on an app which would enable students to anonymously report incidents of bullying. She's also encouraged parents to take a bigger role in holding conversations with children about bullying.

"We're blaming the school for everything, but we have to realize this stuff starts at home. So if they're not being properly trained at home how not to be a bully and how to recognize bullying, how to properly address bullying and tell an authority figure, if we're not doing that at home, then how can we expect the school to do it? So I think the first step is to take care of it at home," Townsend explained.

WCPSS Vice Chair Chris Heagarty, while acknowledging the district's limited jurisdiction for certain actions, supported exploring ways to address off-campus incidents.

"I think there are ways we can amend the policy to reach beyond the lines of our current policy to where we can show off-campus behavior that has a real and measurable impact to the health and safety of students on-campus or is directly related to school function or school activity is something that we can take some action towards. We might not be able to apply a code of conduct or a disciplinary code to certain conduct or behavior, but we still if not a legal duty, we have an ethical duty to report it to those who can or give families options and resources of how a situation, possibly a dangerous situation, can be addressed," Heagarty said.