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Apr 07 2010

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Schools tackle teacher-on-teacher bullying

By Keith Matheny, USA Today

Most schools have policies that target bullying, but they are usually aimed at students. Now, school districts in Iowa and California are developing rules to prevent teachers from bullying teachers.
“Kids are very vulnerable to what adults say. Adult modeling is a very powerful force in shaping youth behavior,” said Stan Davis, a school guidance counselor in Sidney, Maine, and a bullying prevention expert

The Sioux City, Iowa, community school district approved its policy last April. Desert Sands Unified School District of La Quinta, Calif., is awaiting final passage later this month. The two school districts are believed to be the only ones nationwide developing anti-bullying policies for their adult employees, said Gary Namie, who — with his wife and fellow psychologist, Ruth Namie — founded the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash.

Promoting an anti-bullying message among students is “undermined when a principal bullies a teacher in front of the kids,” Namie said.

Though there are just two adult-specific programs so far, the concept may expand, Davis said

Nationwide, 41 states have anti-bullying laws affecting schools, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. A few states, such as North Carolina, Florida and Utah, include school employees with students in their measures, a USA TODAY review of those policies showed.

The Desert Sands school district spent $45,000 for consulting fees and training for its new bullying policy; a price tag some say was too much, considering the district faces a $15 million budget shortfall for the next school year, according to Superintendent Sharon McGehee.

“I just think the money should go toward the kids, not the adults,” said Elizabeth Lira, a parent-teacher group member at the district’s Ronald Reagan Elementary in Palm Desert, Calif.

Matt Spencer, the district’s director of non-teaching employees, said the economic impact of bullying in absenteeism and lost productivity provides an overall financial benefit “that can be used to go about the business of educating children.”

Costs for the Sioux City district’s policy were covered by a local philanthropic organization, human resources director Steve Crary said. Approved last April, Sioux City schools’ anti-bullying policy is already paying dividends, he said.

“We’ve had a number of situations come forward,” Crary said. “I think it’s doing what it was supposed to do. It created a heightened sense of awareness. People who for whatever reason didn’t feel comfortable coming forward before are coming forward and telling us about things.”

The Illinois state Senate last month passed the Abusive Work Environment Act, which would provide protections from workplace bullying for public workers. Workplace abuse “pushes people into a shell of silence,” said Democratic Illinois Rep. Eddie Washington, who is co-sponsoring the House bill. “This is a good way to get in front of it,” he said.

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