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East Aurora says it is complying with federal bullying agreement

Michele Brown is East Aurora's new director secondary programs. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

Michele Brown is East Aurora's new director of secondary programs. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 10, 2014 12:02PM

AURORA — Seven months after entering into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, East Aurora School District says it is complying with requirements that staff and students receive more training about bullying and that district administrators track and report progress to the federal government.

The agreement, which was approved by the school board in June 2013, was prompted by complaints filed in December 2012 and February 2013 by two female students.

The students alleged they had been bullied because of their race at two East Aurora middle schools and that staff knew about the incidents but did not do enough to stop them.

At the time, the students attended Cowherd and Waldo Middle, but they were later transferred to Simmons Middle.

As part of the agreement, East Aurora was to provide training to all school staff who supervise students by Nov. 9 on how to report incidents of possible harassment, including how to spot, prevent and document incidents.

Students were to be given an orientation program by the same date that would teach students about what harassment is and what the district’s policies and procedures are, as well as information about how students can contact district employees to discuss concerns confidentially.

According to district spokesman Matt Hanley, the district provided training to staff in August and September on Olweus, the district’s new anti-bullying program, which was set to be implemented before the two students filed complaints with the federal government.

A training video was created for staffers hired later in the year, Hanley said, and students are taught about Olweus at weekly meetings throughout the school year.

Olweus was designed in the mid-1980s and first used in Norway. Its goals are to reduce existing bullying problems in schools, prevent new issues and improve peer relations by restructuring the school environment to make it less likely that bullying will occur.

According to Hanley, there are several staffers who are charged with monitoring the district’s compliance with the federal agreement and compiling the required reports.

Monitoring is led by the district’s new director of secondary education, Michele Brown, and the human resources director, Nancy Bradish, as well as the district’s attorney, Hanley said.

As part of the implementation of the new anti-bullying program, the district now has five trained Olweus coaches who report to Brown and Bradish, Hanley said. Those five coaches each lead a building-level team.

The federal agreement required that the district develop anti-discrimination and harassment policies and procedures that ensured the district would “adequately address” incidents involving race, color, national origin, sex and disability.

The Office of Civil Rights approved the school board’s revised anti-discrimination and harassment policies on Dec. 18, Hanley said. The student code of conduct was revised by Aug. 3, Hanley said, as part of an annual review of the code and the “revisions were in line with the clarifications required.”

A report that shows the revised policies and handbook have been sent to the Office of Civil Rights, Hanley said, and will be submitted to the school board when it is in its final form.

A copy of the report that was to be submitted to the federal government by Dec. 1 that included steps taken by the district at the suggestion of a working group established to evaluate the effectiveness of the anti-discrimination and harassment policies was not available for review as of press time.

In mid-December, the East Aurora School Board voted to enter into a second agreement with the Office of Civil Rights stating the district would “take all steps necessary” to ensure an unnamed female student would not be “subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of race” for the rest of the school year.

The district said it would assign the student a specific contact to report incidents of harassment to and a safe place to go if she is being harassed.

As part of the original June agreement, the district offered similar protections to another female student who also filed a complaint that she was being bullied because of her race with the Office of Civil Rights.

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