Beaufort County schools to implement new anti-bullying initiatives

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJuly 14, 2014 

Starting with the upcoming school year, the Beaufort County School District takes its anti-bullying campaign digital.

The district will implement several initiatives, including an app for students' tablet devices and making Beaufort High School's anti-bullying play available online. These strategies are meant to make it easier to report bullying and increase awareness about its signs, superintendent Jeff Moss said.

Their creation is not directly related to the April 30 suicide of a Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader who parents and friends said was largely caused by bullying, he added.

"We review what we do from an anti-bullying perspective every year and every month," he said. "We would never wait for a tragic event to be the triggering mechanism. This sort of review and updating would occur annually anyway."

Investigators continue to examine the death of 12-year-old Celeste Wills, according to Sgt. Robin McIntosh, spokeswoman for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

The agency awaits results of a forensic analysis of electronic devices collected from Wills' home, McIntosh said, adding the results aren't slated to be available until November. They will not know what role, if any, bullying played in Wills' suicide until the investigation ends.

Attempts Monday to reach friends of the Wills family were unsuccessful.

Beaufort County Board of Education member Evva Anderson said she thinks Wills' death has helped start a community-wide conversation about bullying, and that it will get parents more involved in the district's efforts.

"The school only has our children for so many hours a day, so we need everyone," said Anderson, who co-chairs the school board's Student Services Committee. That committee met Monday to discuss the district's anti-bullying practices.

"We are moving in the right direction by incorporating more things," she said. "By having the app and the anti-bullying plays online, that is creating more awareness and pushing it to the limit of what we can do."

The new app is being developed by the district and will be on all school-issued tablet devices, head of student services Gregory McCord told committee members Monday. The app will allow students to anonymously and more easily report bullying, as well as find anti-bullying resources.

The district also plans to embed cyber-bullying training into the curriculum for all device users.

School leaders hope that with a bigger digital presence, anti-bullying efforts will be more accessible to students and resonate more with them, McCord said.

The district says it also hopes participating in state Rep. Shannon Erickson's Bullying Task Force will improve anti-bullying efforts in Beaufort County and statewide.

It's hard to measure the success of these programs, Moss said, because an increase in the number of reports could mean bullying is on the rise or simply that more people are reporting it.

He said the district's programs are strong, but that it needs to continue adapting its approach to reach the most students.

"The two top priorities for us fall into reporting and awareness, and both of those we felt we weren't doing quite as much as we could," he said. "Which is why we came up with different ways to do those things."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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