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At its Dec. 13 meeting, the District 65 School Board revised its policies regarding bullying of students and adopted new policies regarding “sexting” and food allergy management to comply with recent state legislation. The Board also adopted a policy regarding electronic surveillance in the schools to bring the policy manual up to date with existing practices.

Bullying – The Protected Class

Board Policy Committee Chair Bonnie Lockhart said bullying has been prevalent across the country. She said it was important to revise the policies regarding bullying and important that parents knew they could talk to school principals about bullying.

Under the policy, bullying of persons is prohibited if it is based on their status or their characteristics. It is not prohibited across the board.

The District has had a policy prohibiting any person from harassing, intimidating and bullying any student on the basis of race, color, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, ancestry, age, religion, disability, status of being homeless, actual or potential marital or parental status.

The revised policy adds that harassment, intimidation and bullying is also prohibited on the basis of “gender identity, gender-related identity or expression,” and also on the basis of “association with a person or group with one or more of the aforementioned actual or perceived characteristics; or any other distinguishing characteristic.”

Bullying is defined to mean “any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or electronically, directed toward a student that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of” placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property, causing a substantially detrimental effect on a student’s physical or mental health, substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance, or substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from services, activities or privileges provided by a school.

Bullying is prohibited while in school or on school property, during any school sponsored or school sanctioned education program, event or activity, while on a school bus or at a school bus stop, or using a school computer or network.

‘Sexting’

The revised policies also prohibit what has sometimes been referred to as “sexting.” The policy prohibits, “creating, sending, sharing, viewing, receiving, or possessing an indecent visual depiction of oneself or another person through the use of a computer, electronic communication device, or cellular phone.”

School administrators are authorized to discipline students for harassment, intimidation, bullying or sexting.

Electronic Surveillance

District 65 began installing video cameras in the schools about two years ago, Superintendent Hardy Murphy told the RoundTable. At the elementary and middle schools, video cameras are installed at main entrances, stairway landings and corridors. At the middle schools they are also installed in cafeterias and overlooking the playgrounds, he said. There are some video cameras at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, at the District’s warehouse and on the playground of the family center. About 60 video cameras currently being used, said Dr. Murphy.

The Board’s new policy regarding electronic surveillance authorizes the District to use video and audio surveillance recordings in school buildings “to monitor conduct and to promote and maintain a safe environment for students and other building occupants.” Surveillance cameras, however, will not be located in classrooms, clothes changing locker rooms, restrooms or employee break rooms.

The policy limits people who may view or listen to the surveillance video or audio recordings to “only those people with a legitimate educational or administrative purpose.” The recordings may be used in a student disciplinary proceeding, and they may be provided to law enforcement authorities.

The policy also authorizes the use of electronic visual and audio surveillance recordings on school buses to promote and maintain a safe environment for students. A notice of the electronic recordings will be placed on the exterior of bus doors.

Food Allergy Policy

The Board also adopted a policy requiring the Superintendent or a designee to develop and implement a Food Allergy Management Program. The goals of the program are to identify students with food allergies, prevent exposure to known allergens, respond to allergic reactions with prompt recognition of symptoms and treatment, and educate and train all staff about management of students with food allergies.

Under the policy, the program should follow the applicable best practices contained in the state’s “Guidelines for Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Schools.” The guidelines were developed over the last two years by the Illinois State Board of Education in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health.