Committee works to address bullying in Vermont schools

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(Host) A committee is working to make recommendations to the Legislature on the problem of bullying in Vermont schools.

Robert Appel is Executive Director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission. He says bullying is a problem in the state’s schools. A pair of Vermont laws passed in 2004 require a specific response from school officials for dealing with harrassment, but not for bullying.

The harassment law falls under Vermont’s anti-discrimination statute.

(Appel) If a student is targeted because of their membership in a category protected by law – which is race color religion, national origin sexual orientation, now gender identity, disability it requires schools to take steps that are reasonably calculated to end that harassment.

(Host) But Appel says if students are targeted because of the way they look or dress, there’s no similar protection.

A bill was introduced in the last legislative session that would have made student bullying a civil violation.

(Appel) There was a proposal in the bill that would have allowed school administrators to report the inappropriate behaviors to law enforcement who would issue – essentially a traffic ticket, which is what happens with hazing and tobacco possession. The notion of that ticket was to sort of leverage to get the perpetrator to look at that behavior and try to engage in other means of resolving the conflict.

(Host) The proposal proved controversial and resulted in the summer study committee – and Appel sits on that committee. He says the group is also trying to find a way to deal effectively with cyber bullying.

The committee’s report is due out in January when the Legislature convenes.

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