More sessions on bullying planned

Parents, teachers, administrators and community members focused on racism and harassment this week during the first of what will be at least three seminars on bullying hosted by the Del Norte County Unified School District.

During the Wednesday event at the district office, Gemini McCasland, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining what harassment is, what a school's responsibility is and when the Office for Civil Rights could become involved. She focused primarily on racial harassment and discussed Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin.

Tony Fabricius, the district's educational services and grants director, met McCasland at the American Indian Education Conference at Humboldt State University in the spring. She was speaking to many of the issues the district wanted to address, he said, as well as offering case studies of how the issue of race and harassment has played out at other schools.

The Office for Civil Rights is in charge of enforcing federal civil rights laws and ensure equal access at all elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools that receive federal funding, McCasland said. The office also helps school districts develop anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, she said.

According to McCasland, the Office for Civil Rights defines harassment as conduct that is sufficiently serious enough, pervasive or persistent enough that if left unaddressed can create a hostile environment. Harassment can be intentional or unintentional and can involve students, teachers or a third party, McCasland said.

She noted that a student could complain about an incident of harassment or bullying that could be prohibited under Title VI.

"It's important that staff are trained to know who to report acts to," McCasland said.

Del Norte Superintendent Don Olson said this was the first of several seminars the district will hold addressing bullying. Another will address cyber-bullying and may include a presentation from the Del Norte County District Attorney's Office, he said.

Another bullying presentation will focus on the district's complaint procedure and community planning.

"We can greatly reduce bullying by educating the community," Olson said, adding that the seminars also coincide with the board's work to update the district's anti-bullying policy to include harassment.

Olson added that he will be attending a conference at Fresno State University on restorative justice, which will focus on changing students' behavior and keeping them in school.

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