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Chappaqua School Board Mulls Harassment Policy

The policy is required for the district to comply with a new state law. Internet filtering policy also discussed.

Chappaqua school officials are working on a new policy that will give the district broader oversight of student activitites deemed to constitute harassment.

The policy must be in place by July 1 in order to comply with the state's new Dignity for All Students Act, which is intended to promote values of tolarence of other backgrounds and respect in schools.

Under Chappaqua's draft version, harassment for definition purposes means acts that create a "hostile environment," which would be done through abuse, threats, intimidation, bullying, and disruption of academic performance or wellbeing. The acts, accordng to the definition are those that would cause a student to fear for their safety or to cause property damage.

The draft was given a reading at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Regarding the policy, Board member Randall Katchis felt that with anything outside of school, they have to be clearful in dealing with. He does not want to see involvement in areas not of the district's concern. Katchis, weighing in on the harassment definition, also wanted to make sure it is being clearly defined, along with making it clear to people who are enforcing it.

Responding, fellow Board member Victoria Tipp explained that cases outside of school should be addressed, where a student makes a threat and in turn makes the other student afraid to attend.

Tipp also felt that the policy has a high standard. She also explained that it has to be proven that a child is afraid, noting that children may have different responses to the actions of another.

“It tries to capture all of the behaviors.”

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Tipp, along with school board President Alyson Kiesel, explained that language of the policy comes directly from the law that it's tied to.

Along with the July 1 deadline, the board discussed whether or not the student code of conduct should be updated at the same time, which would include tying in the harassment policy and other updates, such as changing language. Kiesel felt that the code should have age appropriate language for different student age groups in the district.

Meanwhile, the district is considering an Internet Safety Policy, which will govern the filtering of online content deemed to be inappropriate in school.It would require installation of blocking software within 10 days of setting up the equipment. Exceptions allowing blocked websites through include "bona fide research or other lawful purpose."

School board Vice President asked what sort of effect the policy would have, for example, if a student takes a photo of themselves with Instagram, a popular mobile phone app for online photo sharing.

“Those aren’t our websites and it’s not our technology that they’re using," Tipp said.

It was explained that the policy is meant to only cover district computers and software.

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