Natrona School Board Approves Bullying Policy, Eyes More Open Disclosure
The Natrona County School District board of trustees approved its revised policy on bullying at its meeting Monday, and reviewed a draft policy on communicating student and staff incidents.
After months of work but with only a few comments from the public, trustee Dana Howie read the final draft of the bullying policy during the regular meeting.
Trustee Dave Applegate added this is part of a broader effort about school safety.
Howie has said not everything can be open when dealing with bullying because the district is bound by privacy regulations that forbid it from releasing certain details about perpetrators and the consequences of their actions.
But the district also wants to be as transparent as possible in dealing with issues with a legitimate public interest to maintain a safe educational environment and to quell rumors.
During the work session before the regular meeting, district spokeswoman Tanya Southerland outlined the draft of a policy and research supporting it that balances these interests:
- The Freedom of Information Act allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government.
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 protects the privacy of student education records, and applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.
Organizations releasing data about incidents run the risk of disclosing information that crosses the line between public domain and private student information, and organizations such as schools need to determine what is acceptable, according to the research document supporting the draft communications policy.
The research document cited the Riverton hazing incident with wrestlers in January, how it was communicated to the public, and the consequences as example for school district to consider in how to craft a communications policy.
The Natrona County School District has been reluctant to be as open as it could be, and the proposed policy intends remedy that, Southerland said.
"We outlined some guidelines for sharing a little bit more information than what we have maybe done by practice in the past," Southerland said. "So for instance, if a situation was to occur at a high school or a specific school in the community, we would identify that school."
People would like more information on what a threat detailed -- students to students, students to staff -- to provide the community and parents with the information they need to feel secure in sending their students to school, and knowing the district is sharing allowed by federal law, she said.
If the trustees adopted the policy, it would allow the district to identify the type of incident such as a threat, those affected such as students or staff, possible consequences such as disciplinary action, whether law enforcement is involved, and a specific school as long as that doesn't violate federal privacy rules.