Troup County schools’ cyberbullying policy to be revised

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Matthew Strother

LaGRANGE — Bullying could be a two strikes and you’re out offense in the Troup County School System.

The Troup County Board of Education on Thursday is set to vote on three fast-tracked policy changes to be implemented for the upcoming school year. The changes are being made to bring the policies into compliance with the latest state legislative rules for local school boards, said John Taylor, school system attorney, during the board’s Monday caucus meeting.

Among those policies being revised is the school system’s bullying policy, most notably incorporating how to address cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when students use social media or other electronic communications to harass another student.

The school system had previously made changes to its discipline policy to incorporate how administrators should handle cyberbullying, but the legislative updates require it makes the changes to its actually bullying policy, Taylor said.

The changes the school system made previously to its discipline policy only covers cases of cyberbullying originating from school property, like class computers, but the revision broadens the coverage.

Under the new provisions, the school system would need to address any cyberbullying issues that arises among students even on personal devices. It states that the school system has jurisdiction to enforce punishment of cyberbullying if “it was reasonably foreseeable that the electronic communication would reach the school’s campus; or … there is a sufficient nexus between the electronic communication and the school, which includes, but is not limited to, speech that is directed at (a) school-specific audience, or the speech was brought onto or accessed on the school campus, even if it was not the student in question who did so.”

The provision will be hard to enforce, Taylor said.

“It will be difficult to monitor, because a lot of it we won’t see until a child comes in or until a parent comes in one day and says something,” he noted. “… I don’t know how we go about something like that away from school.”

He noted that the school system has jurisdiction to enforce punishment for incidents at bus stops, for instance, if a fight breaks out. However, if students are dropped off, go home, come out later and fight when a bus isn’t present, that’s not the school system’s jurisdiction, Taylor said as an example.

“How far do we stretch the rubber band before breaking it?” Taylor said of the school’s jurisdiction. But “we have to be diligent about this.”

Board member Debbie Burdette noted that the policy states that a student found by a tribunal to be bullying or cyberbullying on third offense will be assigned to an alternative school or expelled. She suggested that it be lowered to two offenses.

“I think if someone is caught bullying once, that’s unacceptable,” Burdette said. “I think on the second time it needs to be alternative school or expelled.”

Board member Ashley Adams said she would support the change.

Two other policy revisions also are on the slate for approval at Thursday’s meeting.

A change to the weapons policy adds more definitions on what is considered a weapon, such as a nonlethal air gun, stun guns or any incendiary device. A student caught with a weapon shall face a minimum one year expulsion, but a tribunal and the superintendent have authority to modify the punishment on a case-by-case basis if necessary.

Another policy will allow the school system to store levalbuterol sulfate, an inhaler medication for respiratory distress, to administer to prescribed students who are unable to self-administer the drug.

Matthew Strother is editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.