The Williston Northampton School Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan
Williston Northampton School (the “School” or “Williston”) is committed to providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all members of its community. Such an environment precludes behaviors that are disrespectful of, and physically or emotionally harmful to, others. All members of the School community play important roles in maintaining these standards and intervening, as appropriate, when they witness behavior that conflicts with community standards.
The Williston Northampton School Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan (the “Plan”), set forth below, is published in accordance with M.G.L. c. 71, §370, otherwise known as the Massachusetts Law about Bullying in School. This Plan is an integral part of our efforts to promote learning and to prevent behavior that can impede the learning process.
The Plan is consistent with broader protections at Williston against discrimination, harassment, bullying, hazing, and retaliation that appear in our Student and Parent Handbook and Employee Handbook.
It is important that this Plan be well understood by all members of the Williston community. The Head of School, Dean of Students and the Director of the Middle School are responsible for the implementation and administration of the Plan. Questions and concerns related to this Plan should be referred to them.
II. Policy Against Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, and Retaliation
The School will not tolerate any form of bullying or cyber-bullying; nor will the School tolerate retaliation against any person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.
Bullying and cyber-bullying are prohibited on School grounds and at School-sponsored events, activities, functions, and programs. Bullying and cyber-bullying also are prohibited on School buses and other vehicles owned, leased, or used by the School, and through use of technology or an electronic device owned, leased, or used by the School.
In addition, bullying and cyber-bullying are prohibited 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, if the bullying creates a hostile environment at the School for a targeted student or member of the faculty/staff; infringes on the rights of a targeted student or member of the faculty/staff at school; or materially and substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the School.
Aggressor: A student or faculty/staff member who engages in bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation towards another person.
Bullying: Bullying is defined as the use by one or more students or members of the faculty/staff of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at another student or faculty/staff member that:
• causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target’s property;
• places the target in reasonable fear of harm or reasonable fear of damage to the target’s property;
• creates a hostile environment at the School for the target;
• infringes on the rights of the target at the School; or
• materially and substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the School.
Cyber-Bullying: Cyber-bullying is bullying through the use of technology or electronic communication, including, but not 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 includes (i) the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or (ii) the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions inclusive in the definition of bullying. Cyber-bullying also includes 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 included in the definition of bullying.
Faculty/Staff: Faculty/Staff members of the School include, but are not limited to, teachers, administrators, counselors, health center staff, dining commons workers, custodians and housekeeping staff, bus drivers, athletic coaches, tutors, advisors to an extracurricular activity, support staff, and paraprofessionals.
Hostile Environment: A hostile environment 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: Retaliation is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a student who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.
School Grounds: Any property on which a School building or facility is located or property that is owned, leased, or used by the School for a School-sponsored activity, function, program, instruction, or training.
Target: Any student against whom bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation has been perpetrated.
Legal Definitions and School Policy: The Plan is drafted in compliance with the School’s obligations with respect to bullying prevention under Massachusetts law. It is important to bear in mind that stricter standards of behavior may apply under Williston’s policies in order to help prevent inappropriate verbal and physical conduct before a target has been subject to bullying as it is defined under the law. For example, although the law defines bullying as “repeated use” of certain expressions, acts, and/or gestures, the Plan memorializes the School’s discretion to impose disciplinary measures and other corrective action in a case of a single expression, act, or gesture, if the School determines that it is of sufficient severity to warrant disciplinary measures or other remedial action or that the repetition of that expression, act, or gesture might reasonably result in bullying as defined under the law. The School’s efforts to enhance its protection of students and employees in the Williston community in no way expands an individual’s rights under the law. The School may modify the protocols set forth in this Plan and use its discretion in the interpretive enforcement of all ideals and standards of conduct.
III. Prevention of Bullying and Cyber-bullying
At Williston, students learn that as members of our community, civility and respect are central tenants of our community.
The Student and Parent Handbook contains clear expectations for student conduct. The Student and Parent Handbook is shared with families each fall, and it is accessible online via Williston’s Parent Portal. Students meet with the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School to review these policies. During the course of the year, these policies are also reviewed from time to time in all-School assemblies, with student leaders, in dormitories, and in other small group settings.
The School provides annual education for students and offerings in which students develop a greater understanding for their own decision making and understanding of difference and others within a community. The School’s comprehensive approach is intended to support students, as well as provide age-appropriate education for the ways in which bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation can be prevented and the ways in which participation in these prohibited behaviors are antithetical to the mission and core values of the School. Additionally, the approach is intended to educate Williston’s community regarding the steps one must take to respond to incidents of these prohibited behaviors.
The School recognizes that certain persons may be more vulnerable to becoming targets of bullying or harassment based on actual or perceived differentiating characteristics, including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics. We promote a healthy school climate within our curriculum and through various extracurricular activities. In addition to hosting an annual Diversity Conference, the School sponsors clubs and organizations that celebrate diversity, oversees both a faculty and student diversity committee, and emphasizes respect for differences in various employee and student orientations. In addition, teachers and other adults in our community are clear in their expectations for student behavior. When necessary, parents are notified and asked to reinforce standards for membership in the Williston community.
The School also conducts annual training for faculty/staff (and more often, as deemed necessary by the Head of School), which includes: (a) developmentally appropriate strategies to prevent bullying incidents; (b) developmentally appropriate strategies for immediate, effective interventions to stop bullying incidents; (c) information regarding the complex interaction and power differential that can take place between and among a perpetrator, victim, and witnesses to the bullying; (d) research findings on bullying, including information about students who have been shown to be particularly at risk for bullying in the school environment; (e) information on the incidence and nature of cyber-bullying; and (f) internet safety issues as they relate to cyber-bullying.
Access to Resources and Services
Members of the School’s administrative team will identify training, counseling, safety planning, and other services appropriate for members of the community or the community as a whole. The School provides student support on campus through its advisor and residential programs, through the Health Center staff, the director of psychological counseling, and the Dean of Student’s office. In the event that targets, alleged aggressors, and/or their family members require services that the School is unable to provide, the director of psychological counseling may provide referrals to external counselors.
IV. Reports of Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, or Retaliation
Any student who is the target of bullying or cyber-bullying or has witnessed an incident or otherwise has relevant information about bullying or cyber-bullying prohibited by this Plan is expected to promptly report the matter to the Dean of Students, the Director of the Middle School, or to any other faculty or staff member with whom the student is comfortable speaking. If a student is uncomfortable contacting one of these individuals, the student may ask another adult or a classmate to help. Verbal reports made to a member of the faculty/staff will generally be memorialized in writing. Also, any student who is subject to retaliation, in violation of this policy or who knows of another student who has been subject to retaliation, is urged to report it as soon as possible.
A parent of a student who is the target of bullying or cyber-bullying, or of a student who has witnessed or otherwise has relevant information about bullying or cyber-bullying, is strongly urged to promptly notify the Dean of Students, the Director of the Middle School, or the Director of Parent Relations. A parent who has directly witnessed bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation is also strongly encouraged to contact one of these administrators.
Any Williston employee who witnesses or otherwise becomes aware of bullying or cyber-bullying in violation of this Plan, or who becomes aware of retaliation against an individual who reported information concerning a violation of this Plan, is required to report it immediately to the Dean of Students or Director of the Middle School or an immediate supervisor who will then forward it to the Dean or Director. Williston employees should not make promises of confidentiality to a student or parent who informs them of an allegation of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation.
If a member of the faculty/staff witnesses an act of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation in progress, the faculty/staff member is expected to take reasonable steps to stop the act by communicating directly with the person whose behavior is considered unacceptable, offensive, or inappropriate.
Faculty and staff may not make reports under this policy anonymously. The School also urges students and their parents not to make reports anonymously, but anonymous reports by parents or students of either bullying or retaliation are permitted. Although there are circumstances in which an anonymous report can be better that none at all, it is far more difficult to determine the facts of what occurred if complaints are made anonymously, and no disciplinary action will be taken against a student solely on the basis of an anonymous report.
While the School cannot promise strict confidentiality, because information must be shared in order to conduct an effective investigation, the School releases information concerning complaints of bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation only when it determines that there is a legitimate need-to-know.
V. Responding to a Report of Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, or Retaliation
A. Preliminary Considerations: The requirement to report to the Dean of Students, the Director of the Middle School, or other administrator does not limit the authority of a faculty/staff member to respond to behavioral or disciplinary incidents consistent with School policies and procedures for maintaining safety, behavior management, and/or discipline. When a complaint of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation is brought to the attention of the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School, an assessment is made as to what steps need to be taken to protect the well-being of the target(s) and to prevent disruption of their learning environment while the investigation is being conducted. Before fully investigating the allegations of bullying or retaliation, the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School will take steps to assess the need to restore a sense of safety to the alleged target and/or to protect the alleged target from possible further incidents. Responses to promote safety may include, but not be limited to, creating a personal safety plan; pre-determining seating arrangements for the target and/or the aggressor in the classroom, at meals, or during transportation; identifying a staff member who will act as a “safe person” for the target; and altering the aggressor’s schedule and access to the target. The Dean or Director may take additional steps to promote safety during the course of and after the investigation, as necessary.
The Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School will implement appropriate strategies for protecting from bullying or retaliation an individual who has reported bullying or retaliation, an individual who has witnessed bullying or retaliation, an individual who provides information during an investigation, or an individual who has reliable information about a reported act of bullying or retaliation.
At any point after receiving a report of bullying, cyber-bulling, and/or retaliation, the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School may notify the local law enforcement in the event that the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School has a reasonable basis to believe that criminal charges may be pursued against the alleged perpetrator. If the School receives a report of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation involving students from another school, the Head of School (or the Head’s designee) may notify the appropriate administrator of the other school so that both may take appropriate action.
B. Notification of Parents: It is the policy of the School to notify the parents of any student who is an alleged target of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation, and the parents of any student who may have been accused of engaging in such behavior.
C. Investigation: The following is an overview of the protocols that will generally be followed once a report of behavior prohibited under this Plan has been brought to the attention of the School. The investigation is generally overseen by the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School. Other administrators may be involved to help conduct the investigation and consult with appropriate members of the community. During the investigation, the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School may, among other things, interview students, staff, witnesses, parents, and others as necessary. The Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School will remind the alleged aggressor, target, and witnesses that retaliation is strictly prohibited and may result in disciplinary action.
Interviews may be conducted by the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School or other staff members as determined by the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School, and in consultation with the director of psychological counseling, or any other professionals whom the School determines to have knowledge about, or circumstances surrounding, the complaint.
All employees and students are required to cooperate with and participate fully in the investigation of a report of prohibited behavior. While the School cannot promise strict confidentiality, all persons will be instructed to treat the investigation as confidential and not to discuss the allegations with other persons at the School. Although information must be shared to conduct an effective investigation, the School will only release information on a legitimate need-to-know basis.
All persons involved in an investigation should understand that false or exaggerated accusations can be extremely damaging to innocent persons; therefore, the School expects and requires the honest and full disclosure of facts by all involved. Any person who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying or retaliation may be subject to disciplinary action.
D. Resolution, Notification and Follow-Up: Following interviews and any other investigation undertaken, the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School will make a determination about whether and to what extent the allegation of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation has been substantiated. If it is determined that the policy set forth in this Plan has been violated, the Head of School or the Head’s designee will determine what disciplinary action and/or other remedial action is appropriate and how it will be implemented. Bullying and retaliation are considered major rule violations at the School and will be handled according to the procedures outlined in the School’s Student and Parent Handbook.
Information about consequences or other corrective action will be shared with the Williston community as deemed appropriate by the Head of School. The amount of information provided may be limited by laws protecting student records and/or the integrity of investigatory processes. When it is determined by the Head of School that the student body or faculty would benefit from reporting of the events and associated consequences of an incident of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation, an announcement may be made in person, by electronic communication, or otherwise.
The goal of an investigation and any disciplinary or other remedial process that is imposed following that investigation is to correct the situation to the extent it is reasonably possible, to take such steps as are reasonably possible to prevent a repetition of the incident and to prevent the target(s) and others who participated in the investigation from being subject to retaliation.
In appropriate circumstances, such as when a crime may have been committed or a child may have been subject to abuse or neglect of the type that is reportable under M.G.L. c. 119, § 51A, law enforcement or another appropriate government agency may be notified.
Upon completion of the investigation, the Dean of Students or the Director of the Middle School who conducted the investigation will meet individually with the student or students who were the target of the alleged incident, the student or students against whom the complaint was made, and the parents of all involved (if applicable) to report the results of the investigation and, where disciplinary or other corrective action is determined to be appropriate, to inform the parties of the steps that will be taken to correct the situation. The amount of information provided in these meetings may be limited by confidentiality laws protecting student and employee records.
Follow-up contacts will be made with any individual found to have been targeted in violation of this policy and the student’s parents (as applicable) to inquire as to whether there have been any further incidents, and will take action as appropriate.
If the Dean of Students or Director of the Middle School determines that an individual knowingly made a false allegation of bullying or retaliation, that individual may be subject to disciplinary action.
Resources such as counseling or referral to appropriate services are available to all students and faculty/staff during and after an investigation, including both the alleged aggressors and alleged targets.
E. Disciplinary Action: The Head of School, or the Head’s designee, will determine any appropriate disciplinary action for a student who is found to have committed an incident of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation. The range of disciplinary actions that may be taken against an aggressor for bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation shall balance the need for accountability with the need to teach appropriate behavior, and may include:
• Loss of privileges;
• Suspension from the School; and
• Dismissal from the School.
The Discipline Committee may be convened to investigate and make recommendations to the Head of School (or the Head’s designee).
Any student found to have made a false allegation of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation may also be subject to disciplinary action. If, as the result of an investigation, the Head of School determines that faculty/staff should also be subject to disciplinary action, such disciplinary action will be handled in accordance with the policies set forth in the Employee Handbook.
The goals of this Plan are to (1) prevent bullying and cyber-bullying in the School community, (2) encourage members of the School community to have confidence in the School’s procedures and to come forward promptly whenever an individual is subject to conduct that is prohibited by this or any other School policy; and (3) implement appropriate discipline and other corrective measures when they are found to be warranted.