JENKINTOWN >> Students can now face disciplinary action for cyberbullying in the Jenkintown School District.
The school board unanimously approved a revised bullying policy Monday night that adds cyber threats and intimidation as forms of bullying that are prohibited and subject to punishment.
Cyberbullying, as defined in the revised policy, means “sending, posting or communicating harmful or cruel text or images using the Internet or other digital communication technology including, but not limited to, computers, cell phones, and tablets.”
The new policy specifically addresses acts committed by a student or group of student toward another student or group of students. For example, students will be prohibited from not only directly exchanging harmful texts or images but also from posting this content on websites, social media forums and instant messaging platforms.
“This is not meant to be an exhaustive list,” said Solicitor Justin O’Donoghue on defining the prohibitive acts. “[This is] because as soon as we develop an exhaustive list, there will be a development in technology that will make our list woefully outdated. The idea was to be illustrative of the types of student activity that can do the types of harm we are talking about.”
In order to be recognized as bullying in general and subject to discipline, the act has to meet three criteria. It has to occur in a school setting; it has to be severe, persistent or pervasive; and it has to have a substantial disrupting effect, either on the student’s education or learning environment or on the orderly operation of the school.
What constitutes a school setting received some augmentation in the new policy. The policy does not necessarily require the act to have been committed on school grounds or on a bus, for example. Bullying that occurs away from the school or school events can be punishable if it is shown to have a “direct nexus” to the student’s attendance at the school or school-sponsored activity.
According to district officials, cyber-bullying was added to the policy in response to feedback from parents in the community. The policy notes that all forms of bullying will be subject to prompt investigation and that the district will remind students annually that bullying will not be tolerated.
The policy is now subject to review by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and should become an active policy within a week.
In other news, the board also unanimously approved its 2017-18 budget in final form Monday night.
The $16.3 million spending plan includes a 3.3 percent increase in the school tax rate. The millage rate will increase from 38.98 to 40.30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That means a resident with a home assessed at the borough average of $159,942 can expect to pay an additional $218 in school taxes under the proposed budget.
The board held a public hearing on the budget in its preliminary form last month. The district was able to scale back the tax impact from a projected 4.5 percent increase to 3.3 percent. An $800,000 budget deficit, along with increases in state pension obligations and other rising district costs, were challenges the board had to overcome in designing next year’s spending plan.