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Task force says staffers not using tools to fight school bullying

Clark County schools and the state together have most of the requirements in place to investigate, report and discipline bullies, but school workers need to follow them better, according to findings by a task force on bullying released Wednesday.

The Clark County School District task force was created by Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky in reaction to a grieving father who demanded action after his daughter’s suicide earlier this school year.

Jason Lamberth’s daughter, 13-year-old Hailee Lamberth, committed suicide in December. In her suicide note, she pointed to bullying at Henderson’s White Middle School as a reason. Her father said he wasn’t told before or after Hailee’s death that she had been harassed three weeks before her suicide.

Lamberth asked for any such report in a meeting with White’s principal after Hailee’s suicide but was told nothing existed.

Only after receiving an anonymous tip did Lamberth ask for his daughter’s disciplinary report that disclosed she had been harassed, which was reported to the school, investigated and confirmed.

“Administrators must take these allegations seriously and investigate them immediately. Parents must be informed as soon as possible,” Skorkowsky said on Wednesday, declaring that subcommittees would be created to develop action plans for each of the recommendations and implement them for 2014-15. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Wednesday’s recommendations and promises from school leaders to take a zero-tolerance stand against bullying sound good but miss the point of concern from parents and students, who were not represented on the task force, said Lamberth and others in the audience.

“The accountability of administrators is the issue,” said Lamberth, asserting that serious consequences need to be created for school staff who don’t report or investigate cases of student harassment and bullying.

A lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada against the Clark County School District alleged inaction by Henderson’s Greenspun Middle School staff and district officials when two boys were harassed for months and physically assaulted. For months, parents requested changes that would end the harassment, to no avail, and eventually pulled their children from the school.

None of Wednesday’s recommendations included discipline for school staff not reporting, investigating or resolving known incidents.

The proposals were for stepped-up discipline for student bullies.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, has been pushing for more legislation dealing with school bullying since 2001 and said he has experienced resistance from school administrators.

“We need to hold the administrators and teachers much more accountable,” Parks said.

The task force’s recommendations are, for a large part, already required under state law, Lamberth said.

One proposal requires school staff to report all bullying incidents and school administrators to always investigate and notify parents.

State law already requires school staff to report suspected bullying incidents. The law mandates that the principal provide written notice to parents or legal guardians of all students involved and investigate within 24 hours.

The investigation must be concluded within 10 days. In a confirmed instance of bullying, recommendations must be made for disciplinary actions or other measures as described in district policy.

The district’s current discipline policy “prohibits” bullying and allows principals to suspend or expel students “considered a danger to persons or property.” To do so, the disciplined student must be informed of the reason and given a chance to explain their conduct. A hearing then must be held no more than three days after the students is removed.

The committee also recommended clearly defining administrators’ responsibility. That already is spelled out in state law but not in district policies.

Another suggestion is to embed anti-bullying curriculum in English courses and in sixth-grade health classes instead of eighth grade because bullying is prevalent in middle school.

Staff training should also be offered on how to recognize, prevent and report bullying. State law already says school administrators and others need to be trained on reporting and investigating bullying.

The district should also ensure each campus is compliant with bullying procedures and make district policies comply with state law, the committee said.

School Board members said these recommendations need to be put into action, but it won’t be easy making sure that is done at all 357 schools. It will be a “paradigm shift,” board members said.

It will be difficult, but the view that “kids will be kids” needs to change, board member Carolyn Edwards said.

A student once gave her son a note calling him a derogatory term for homosexual. Edwards said she told the principal, who simply said boys will be boys. It took the threat of a lawsuit from Edwards to see action by the school.

“I shouldn’t have to do that as a parent,” she said. “No one should have to do that as a parent. If we report an issue, it should be addressed.”

Contact Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.

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