Introduction

  • The Falmouth Public Schools is committed to maintaining a school environment where students are free from bullying and cyber-bullying and the effects thereof. Acts of bullying and cyber-bullying are prohibited:

    1. on school grounds, property immediately adjacent to school grounds, at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, function or program whether on or off school grounds, at a school bus stop, on a school bus or other vehicle owned, leased or used by the school district; or through the use of technology or an electronic device owned, leased or used by the school district and
    2. at a location, activity, function or program that is not school-related, or through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased or used by the school district, if the acts create a hostile environment at school for the target, infringes on the rights of the target at school or materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.

    Retaliation against a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying also is prohibited.

Definitions

  • Aggressor is a student or staff member who engages in bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation.

    Bullying, as defined in M.G.L. c.71, s. 370 is the repeated use by one or more students or by a member of a school staff including, but not limited to, an educator, administrator, school nurse, cafeteria worker, custodian, bus driver, athletic coach, advisor to an extracurricular activity, or paraprofessional of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim or target that:

    1. causes physical or emotional harm to the targeted student or damage to their property;
    2. places the target student in reasonable fear of harm to themselves or of damage to their property;
    • creates a hostile environment at school for the targeted student;
    1. infringes on the rights of the targeted student at school; or
    2. materially and substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the school.

    Bullying generally involves “picking on” a student over time and may include conduct such as hitting and shoving; pressuring a student into taking an action the student does not wish to take, words that involve threats, teasing, putdowns, or name-calling; threatening looks, gestures, or actions; cruel rumors; false accusations; and social isolation.

    Cyber-bullying, as defined in M.G.L. c.71, s. 37O is bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyber-bullying also includes:

    1. the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person;
    2. the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions enumerated above in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying; and
    • the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if the distribution or posting creates any of the conditions enumerated above in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying.

    Cyber-bullying may include conduct such as sending derogatory, harassing or threatening email messages, instant messages, or text messages; creating websites that ridicule, humiliate, or intimidate others; and posting on websites or disseminating embarrassing or inappropriate pictures or images of others.

    Hostile Environment, as defined in M.G.L. c. 71, s. 37O, is a situation in which bullying causes the school environment to be permeated with intimidation, ridicule or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of a student’s education.

    Retaliation is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.

    Target is a student or staff member against whom bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation has been perpetrated.

  • The Falmouth Public Schools absolutely prohibits bullying, cyber-bullying and retaliation as defined above. Students and staff members who engage in bullying or retaliation will be subject to disciplinary action; however, disciplinary action taken must balance the need for accountability with the need to teach appropriate behavior. The range of disciplinary action includes, but is not limited to, one or more of the following: verbal warnings, written warnings, reprimands, detentions, short-term or long-term suspensions, or expulsions from school as determined by the school administration and/or school committee, subject to applicable procedural requirements. Nothing in this policy is intended to prevent the school administration and/or school committee from taking disciplinary action against a student or staff member for conduct that does not meet the definition of bullying or cyber-bullying, as defined above, but nevertheless is inappropriate for the school environment.

Reporting Obligations

  • Reporting by Staff:  A member of school staff, including, but not limited to, an educator, administrator, school nurse, cafeteria worker, custodian, bus driver, athletic coach, advisor to an extracurricular activity or paraprofessional, shall immediately report any instance of bullying or retaliation the student has witnessed or become aware of to the school principal or designee.

    Reporting by Students, Parents/Guardians, and Others:  The district expects students, parents/guardians, and others who witness or become aware of an instance of bullying or retaliation involving a student to report it to the school principal or designee. An individual may make an anonymous report of bullying or retaliation, however, no disciplinary action may be taken against a student or staff member solely on the basis of an anonymous report. A student or staff member who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying or retaliation shall be subject to disciplinary action.

    Reporting to Parents/Guardians: The principal or designee must promptly notify the parent/guardian of the alleged target and the alleged aggressor of a report of bullying or retaliation and of the school’s procedures for investigating the report. If the alleged target and alleged aggressor attend different schools, the principal receiving the report shall inform the principal of the other student’s school, who shall notify the student’s parents/guardians of the report and procedures.

    Reporting to Local Law Enforcement: At any point after receipt of a report of bullying or retaliation, or during or after an investigation, if the school principal or designee has a reasonable basis to believe that the incident may involve criminal conduct, the school principal or designee will notify the local law enforcement agency. In addition, if an incident of bullying or retaliation occurs on school grounds and involves a former student under the age of 21 who is no longer enrolled in a local school district, charter school, non-public school, approved private day or residential school or collaborative school, the Superintendent of the Falmouth Public Schools or designee will notify local law enforcement if they believe that criminal charges may be pursued.

    Reporting to Administrator of Another School District or School: If an incident of bullying or retaliation involves students from more than one school district, charter school, non-public school, approved private day or residential school or collaborative school and the Falmouth Public Schools is the first to be informed of the bullying or retaliation, then the Superintendent of the Falmouth Public Schools or designee must, consistent with state and federal law, promptly notify the appropriate administrator of the other school district or school so that both may take appropriate action.

Investigation

  • The school principal or designee shall investigate promptly a report of bullying or retaliation, giving consideration to all the circumstances at hand, including the nature of the allegations and the ages of the students involved. The following are general guidelines for responding to a report of bullying or retaliation. The guidelines will be adapted as necessary to respond appropriately to the complaint.

    Pre-Investigation:  Even before fully investigating allegations of bullying or retaliation, school personnel will consider whether there is a need to take immediate steps to support the alleged target and/or protect the alleged target from further potential incidents of concern. In taking any such action, however, the rights of both the alleged target and alleged aggressor must be considered.

    Written statement of the complaint:  The investigator will seek to determine the basis of the complaint, gathering information from the complainant, including such matters as: what specifically happened, who committed the alleged acts, who was present or may have information about the events, when the events occurred (date, time of day), and where the events occurred.  It is helpful to have these facts in writing. If age appropriate, the complainant may be asked to put the complaint in writing and to sign and date it. If the complainant cannot or chooses not to write a complaint, the investigator will record the allegations, read them to the complainant to confirm accuracy, and ask the complainant to sign the document. If the complainant cannot or chooses not to sign, the investigator may sign and date the document themselves.

    Interviews:  Once the allegations of the complainant are established, the investigator will gather other evidence, which often involves interviews of the alleged aggressor and/or other witnesses. If appropriate, the investigator should remind the alleged aggressor and witnesses that retaliation against persons whom they believe might have reported the incidents or cooperated with the investigation is strictly prohibited and will result in disciplinary action.

    Confidentiality:  The confidentiality of the complainant and the other witnesses will be maintained to the extent practicable given the school's obligation to investigate and address the matter.

  • School personnel must weigh all of the evidence objectively to determine whether the alleged events occurred and, if they did, whether the events constitute bullying or retaliation. The determination must be based upon all of the facts and circumstances and the perspective of a reasonable person. When applied to children, the "reasonable person" standard is generally "that of a reasonable person of like age, intelligence, and experience under like circumstances." See Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872 (9th Cir. 1991).

    If bullying or retaliation is substantiated, the school will take steps reasonably calculated to prevent recurrence and ensure that the target is not restricted in participating in school or in benefiting from school activities. As with the investigation, the response will be individually tailored to all of the circumstances, including the nature of the conduct and the age of the students involved. In addition to taking disciplinary action, the following are examples of steps that may be taken to prevent the recurrence of bullying or retaliation:

    • Holding parent/guardian conferences;
    • Transferring student’s classroom or school;
    • Limiting or denying student access to a part, or area, of a school; \
    • Enhancing adult supervision on school premises;
    • Excluding from participation in school-sponsored or school-related functions, after-school programs, and/or extracurricular activities;
    • Providing relevant educational activities for individual students or groups of students or staff members. Guidance counselors and others in the school setting who have been trained in working with students or staff members on interpersonal issues may be helpful in providing such programs.
    • Personalized Action Plan and directives for future conduct, including providing the target with a process for reporting any concerns about future conduct immediately. It is critical to involve the student or staff member in creating an action plan that involves a reporting process that works for that particular student or staff member.
    • Arranging for communication between the parties, if appropriate, to assist them in resolving issues which have arisen between them. (Such an approach will be used cautiously since communication can sometimes exacerbate, rather than alleviate, the target’s concerns and since the conduct often involves an imbalance of power.)
    • Providing counseling (or other appropriate services) or referral to such services for the target and/or the aggressor and/or for appropriate family members of said students.

Closing the Complaint and Possible Follow-Up

  • School staff will promptly provide notice to the parent/guardian of a target and an aggressor about whether or not the complaint was substantiated and, if substantiated, what action is being taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation. Specific information about disciplinary action taken generally will not be released to the target’s parents or guardians—unless it involves a “stay away” or other directive that the target must be aware of in order to report violations.

    If appropriate, within a reasonable time period following closure of the complaint, the administrative staff or designee will contact the target to determine whether there has been any recurrence of the prohibited conduct.

    The district will retain a report of the complaint, containing the name of the complainant, the date of the complaint, investigator, school, a brief statement of the nature of the complaint, the outcome of the investigation, and the action taken. Quarterly review of reports will be conducted by the Superintendent or designee in collaboration with the building administrator.