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Sunday, February 04, 2007

New Harassment Policy in Schools Moving Toward Completion

On Thursday Night, the Davis Joint Unified School Board took the next steps toward completing a new harassment policy when they unanimously approved much more specific, detailed, and strong policies that laid out severe and strict consequences for students who harass other students. Additionally, the school board moved toward the creation of a new category in their discipline matrix that will be one that deals with the violation of a student's civil rights.

This is a much needed update to the school district's discipline process. Part of the frustrating aspect of the Fischer harassment case was not just the fairly light punishments for the students involved in this incident, but the extent to which the district's policy's created a discrepancy in the severity of some punishments versus others. Two key examples, if a student called another student a racial epithet that was a more severe penalty (automatic suspension) than if a student called another student an anti-gay epithet. Moreover, smoking marijuana was also a much more severe penalty than the verbal harassment of another student. Not that smoking marijuana is a good thing, but it seems to be much more serious to harass and bully another student.

If the school district did nothing else, it had to clean up these seeming inconsistencies in their policy. And to their credit they did. School board member Sheila Allen was quoted in the paper as saying that these polices had been drafted and adopted in record time. I guess that is a good thing that the district can be responsive when a glaring hole in their current policy is found. I am certain from Mr. Fischer's perception it comes much too late. That is not necessarily a criticism of the board per se, but rather a recognition that hopefully in the future we can figure out these holes before a serious incident occurs.

In my opinion, it should not take a crisis and a lawsuit to induce fast action and change. Again, and let me reemphasize, the board did the right thing here. And they did it very quickly, I first reported on this story in the Vanguard on November 10, 2006 and the board itself first met on November 16, 2006. So it took less than three months to make drastic changes and that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas-New Years, in between. That is quite impressive.

Finally, as Mr. Fischer points out in the Davis Enterprise, the next key thing is for the district to ensure that these policies will be enforced. Again, the language is very strong and I think fairly clear. But they will only work as well as they are followed. And that is the crux of it all, they can have all of the language they want but if the principals are not following the provisions laid out then they will not work.

One suggestion would be to periodically (and I honestly do not know if they already do this or if they even could do this) monitor the schools and see how discipline policies are carried out and not just on this issue obviously, but overall. However, what I fear will happen is that the next time an incident like this occurs, the policy will be put to the test and we will only find out if it is working if the parent complains in a loud and vocal way so as to ensure that the public hears about this incident.

A couple of other quick notes. First, there are several youtube videos that I have created for use on this site. However, they are also available on the youtube website. There have been a number of comments posted by people who obviously live in this community that are rather troubling (I actually had to remove some of the comments because they were too vulgar and several of those obviously came from people who appeared to be in this community and PARENTS of students in this school district). There is also prevailing perception that Zach Fischer somehow brought this upon himself. While I think that the idea that he would be a completely innocent is probably not accurate, given the depths of this incident, I think I can safely say there can be no excuse for what happened to him. None at all.

Second to the implication that this will somehow deprive the school district of vast resources and that Mr. Fischer is suing the school district merely to line his own pockets, I would like to point out a few actual facts. First, the district has an insurance policy that will mean they will pay some sort of deductible and the rest of the cost will be mitigated by the insurance. Second, he is hardly asking for enough to line his pockets. Third and most importantly, the school district's actions show that school policy was lacking in this area. I will quickly also suggest that their quick action shows a good faith effort to correct it. I am not going to weigh in on the merits of this case, other than to suggest those actions taken in the last few weeks suggest that this is not merely a frivolous waste of everyone's time. People need to inform themselves on the facts before they make derisive comments, it has been a bit of an eye-opener to read some of those comments on youtube. (If you look on the side panel you can click on the videos that relate to the Fischer case and view them for yourselves).

---Doug Paul Davis reporting