Leonia’s Deliberation on HIB Policy Aims to Balance Safety & Reporting

At the recent Leonia School Board meeting, discussion focused on revising the harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) policy, with emphasis on careful phrasing to avoid potential escalations. The board also navigated concerns surrounding public access to documents and the specifics of DEI training funding. Celebratory notes were struck with the induction of new student representatives and an enthusiastic outlook towards the forthcoming school year.

In response to public concern, the board deliberated over the phrasing of a harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) policy that, as currently worded, might encourage students to walk away rather than report incidents of bullying. While the board expressed appreciation for this insight and seemed open to revisiting the language used in the policy to better encapsulate its intentions, they also leaned towards maintaining “walking away” as a viable option for students to prevent potential escalations.

There was also discussion surrounding the choice between the conjunctions “and” versus “and/or,” with many board members and attendees feeling that the use of “and” mandated students to report any incidents they witnessed. As one board member noted, the implications of the wording could alter students’ perceived duties. A student representative insightfully added, “There are instances where if you do get more actively involved in the conflict, you will escalate the conflict. So I think walking away is not always because you want to be a bystander.”

Furthering the conversation around harassment, the board underlined the importance of distinguishing genuine cases of harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) from mere relational conflicts. They emphasized that not every interpersonal disagreement should be classified under HIB, a misconception often held by the public. However, the board assured attendees that even if an incident isn’t classified as HIB, it doesn’t imply inaction on the school’s part. Such episodes still merit attention under the district’s code of conduct.

The urgency to finalize the policy due to county office pressure was noted, with members vowing not to let the matter “fall away” and to refine the wording in the future. Superintendent Dr. Brian Gatens stressed the importance of distinguishing between HIB and other conflicts to foster a healthier school environment.

During the meeting’s public comments portion, one local resident expressed his concern about the policy, stressing the importance of handling such instances carefully to avoid escalation and potentially legal consequences. Board members acknowledged the complexity of the issue, agreeing to consider online enviornments in future policy revisions.

Another community member raised concerns about the accessibility of certain documents through the Google Access system, a remark that led to a broader conversation about public access to documents. The board, including members Daniel Lee and Kimberly Melman, affirmed that they had verified each link before publishing the agenda, but acknowledged the necessity to be diligent about not disclosing confidential information inadvertently.

Another significant topic brought up by the community member involved a query about the financial particulars of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training embedded in the LHS professional development plan. The board explained the training was facilitated through a combination of a general budget account and grant money, including funds from the American Rescue Plan. While the exact budget was not available, there was a commitment to share this data in the future.

Further into the meeting, the introduction of new student representatives – Hannah, Emily, and Renee, marked a celebratory note as they were sworn into office, adding youthful voices to the governing body. This was followed by a harmonious discussion on enhancing the school website’s user-friendliness by incorporating a direct link to policy documents, an idea well-received by board members including Ana De Jesus and Isaac Park.

Looking ahead to the new academic year, the board expressed enthusiasm likening the first day to “Christmas morning.” The meeting also highlighted operational logistics like state-mandated training initiatives for teachers and urged parents to explore the possibility of availing free or reduced-price meals for their children through state benefits, ensuring no child would be restricted from accessing a meal due to account issues.

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