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GCPS Approves Anti-Bullying Policy

Board also OKs $1.7 billion budget for 2011-12.

The Gwinnett County school board approved an updated anti-bullying policy Thursday night that includes guidelines against cyberbullying.

Meeting at GCPS headquarters in Suwanee, the five-member board voted after hearing a report from Executive Director Dr. Jim Taylor at a work session. The report showed that the system's proactive efforts have resulted in a decrease in out-of-school suspensions (by 841) for the current school year.

Also, the board formally OK'd the $1.7 billion spending plan for the coming school year.

The new anti-bullying policy adds language that defines bullying as "any intentional written, verbal or physical act, which a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass or intimidate." 

The guidelines have consequences for retaliation and false reporting, and specify that an offender will be assigned to an alternative school after the third offense in a school year.

"The message we got from parents," Taylor said, "was that if you try to publicly humiliate someone, it's bullying. They were encouraging our administration to make a determination."

On cyberbullying, prohibited behaviors include:

-- using websites to circulate gossip and rumors to other students (added in new policy), and social networking sites are included;

-- use of cameras or cell phones to take embarrassing photographs;

-- sending abusive or threatening text messages or instant messages.

"I think it's a sound policy," board Chairman Dr. Robert McClure of Lilburn said.

The estimated number of out of school suspensions in GCPS was 40.8 students per 1,000 in 2010-11, down from 46.4 the previous school year.

Students in all grades are included in the policy, which will take effect Aug. 1. It brings GCPS in line with state guidelines.

$1.7 billion budget approved: Gwinnett County schools will operate on 6 percent less money in the coming school year. The system overcame a shortfall of $104 million to balance the budget, including the loss of stimulus funds. The board tenatively kept the millage rate at 20.55.

Rick Cost, the school system's chief financial officer, noted that GCPS is spending $515 per student less than the state average of $8,761. The county's revenue decline is not expected to end until FY 2015. "These are hard times," Board Chairman Dr. Robert McClure of Lilburn said.

Site acquisition policy vote delayed: Board members opted to hold for further review a revised policy on acquiring land for new schools. The policy is being reworked because of controversy over some recent GCPS land purchases. The June meeting is the soonest that the board could vote on a new policy.

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