A Shared Responsibility Model in Bullying Prevention
All parents want their children healthy and safe in our schools. In Pittsburgh Public Schools community, we share the vision and responsibility of ensuring that our schools are orderly, that peer to peer interactions are healthy, that problem behaviors are reported and addressed promptly using our policies and procedures, and that our teaching and learning environments are positive and nurturing.
Through the vision of a shared responsibility model, each and every parent, child, school professional, community partner, and school volunteer has a role to play in making sure that our school environments and activities are respectful and welcoming.
Over the last decade, one behavior that has gripped the attention of school boards, law enforcement officials, parents and so many others across America is bullying.
Bullying is defined as intentional, aggressive behavior[s] that may be verbal, physical, written or electronic, aimed at another student or students, for the purpose of creating fear or intimidation by harming physically, mentally or emotionally. It may be direct or indirect, with face-to-face interactions or by spreading rumors, sharing inappropriate pictures or demeaning a student using social media.
Bullying does unfortunately occur in our schools, but there are steps we are taking to curb its existence in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
District Policies & Procedures around Bullying
All school districts in Pennsylvania are required to have a policy prohibiting bullying according to Section 1303.1-A of the Public School Code. Existing policies must be reviewed every three years and integrated into the Code of Student Conduct. While Pittsburgh Public Schools has been in compliance with state law, we determined a need to make our district-wide process more comprehensive, empowering and informative throughout our schools.
In addition, every Pittsburgh Public School has a Student Assistance Team Coordinator that is available to provide information on prevention programming and support services. The Student Assistance Team can receive and process referrals for any students who may be victims or perpetrators of bullying. In addition, the Pittsburgh Public Schools Compliance Officer for bullying/harassment is available to provide information, answer questions or assist with resolving problems with bullying.
A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding, Preventing and Responding to Bullying
During the 2011-2012 school year, school social workers, counselors, and nurses worked with central office staff to assemble a guide for teachers that would enhance their understanding of bullying, heighten awareness of our updated policy and practices, outline a teacher’s role in preventing and responding to bullying, and demonstrate where and how to integrate lessons about bullying prevention into our curriculum. In November of 2012, Pittsburgh Public Schools launched A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding, Preventing and Responding to Bullying, which was presented at all Pittsburgh Public Schools during a training session for teachers.
All Pittsburgh Public School Student Assistance Program service providers were informed of our district-wide efforts towards preventing and responding to bullying, and received copies of the Teacher’s Guide for their respective staff. SAP service providers have been valuable partners in this work for over twenty-five years. As we improve our practices, and given that they are present in all of our schools, they are available to Student Services staff and teachers for assisting with classroom prevention lessons and skill-building groups.
In an effort to keep our work on the radar and very visual, school posters were also provided to all schools about preventing and stopping bullying. Those posters are found in classrooms and hallways as a constant reminder of what teachers will say and do, as well as what students should say and do in the event of a bullying incident.
HarassmentSome conduct that qualifies as bullying may trigger responsibilities under state and federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (which both prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities).
Discriminatory harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin/ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or religion is strictly prohibited by Board Policy Harassment is defined as verbal, written, graphic or physical conduct relating to an individual’s race, color, national origin/ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion when such conduct:
Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other inappropriate verbal, written, graphic or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
- Is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects an individual's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity or creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment;
- Has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual's academic performance; or
- Otherwise adversely affects an individual's learning opportunities.
- Submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a student's academic status;
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for academic or work decisions affecting the student;
- Such conduct deprives a student of educational aid, benefits, services or treatment; or
- Such conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with the student’s school performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment.
Reporting and Investigation of Bullying / Harassment
ReportingStudents and others who have been the victim of, or have information about, bullying or harassment are strongly encouraged to make a report to the school. A teacher, counselor, school social worker or school administrator will field complaints and ensure that they are properly addressed under the District’s Bullying & Harassment Policy and administrative procedures.
InvestigationComplaints of bullying or harassment, once received, are investigated by the school principal or a designee, such as an assistant principal, school counselor or social worker. In certain cases, the Compliance Officer for Student Bullying & Harassment or the PPS Law Department will investigate the complaint. This will occur if the school principal or other school employee is the alleged perpetrator of the conduct, or if the conduct is particularly severe in nature. For peer-on-peer bullying and harassment, the parents of all students involved in the conduct will be contacted. Investigations typically include interviews with students, staff and others who may have knowledge about the conduct and a review of other information, materials or records relative to the incident.
Findings of the investigation of bullying or harassment will be provided to all individuals involved in the incident. A copy of the report is also maintained by Compliance Officer and the school.
If the investigation reveals that bullying or harassment has occurred, corrective action will be taken to ensure that the conduct stops. Corrective action may be any number of measures the school or Compliance Officer believes will be effective to prevent further incidents. Corrective action could include separating the students involved, assigning students to counseling, or instituting discipline consistent with the Code of Student Conduct.
District Compliance Officer for Student Bullying & HarassmentAlicia Johnson is the District’s Compliance Officer for Bullying & Harassment.
Ms. Johnson can contact information is as follows:
Compliance Officer for Student Bullying & Harassment
Office of Student Support Services
341 S. Bellefield Avenue, Room 440
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Phone: (412) 529-3918
Fax: (412) 622-3954
This resource was designed to help parents identify and address signs of bullying and how to respond if they suspect their child is being bullied.