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Committee Reviewing District Policy on Bullying

In response to parent concerns about how schools respond to allegations of bullying, a board of education committee last week met to discuss possible changes to the policy.

“We are always seeking ways to improve and this is an especially important area,” said Superintendent Matt Geary, who was in attendance when the board’s Policy Committee met last week.

Board members on the committee are Deborah Hagenow, Mary Jane Pazda and Darryl Thames. They were joined by parent Candy Lopez, who has been critical of the district's response to bullying allegations and thus volunteered to participate during the review session.

Geary said suggestions made by the committee included creating a one-page parent-friendly “overview” of policy 5131.1 -- which is now 13 pages, including forms that are used to report and investigate cases of possible bullying.

“The policy is based on state law, so the major elements are not things we can change,” said Geary, who last month sent a letter to the Manchester community explaining efforts being made in the area of climate and culture.

He added: “The strategies we are using have been proven to be effective and we are confident they will make a positive difference in Manchester.”

Another visitor at the policy meeting was Sandy Lok, a former school board member who is now involved with Tails of Joy -- which uses therapy dogs in school settings.

Sandy has been volunteering in our schools with her dogs.

Recent research has shown a strong impact of cultivating relationships with pets in health-related and education settings.

Positive changes have been seen in adults and children developing resilience, self-reliance, and self-regulation.

“Children who sometimes have difficulty relating to their classmates, teachers and other adults often behave differently with pets,” said Geary, adding that these children frequently demonstrate greater self-confidence and more consistent awareness of the pet’s needs.

“Sometimes,” he said, “ this improves their ability to transfer these behaviors to people.”

Geary said the school district has begun to have dogs (with their handlers, naturally) visit schools and classes typically weekly in a structured yet relaxed setting. The students can pet the dog, interact with the dog and even sometimes read with the dog.

“This is another example of a therapeutic intervention we are trying out in Manchester that is also being tried in other places,” he said.

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