Sheriff asks Dolores board to draft bullying policy

Dolores asked to align with state

Participants in a Four Corners bully prevention meeting in 2016 were encouraged to turn in suggestions to stop bullying. Sheriff Steve Nowlin has suggested the Dolores school district adopt a bullying prevention policy. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/The Journal

Participants in a Four Corners bully prevention meeting in 2016 were encouraged to turn in suggestions to stop bullying. Sheriff Steve Nowlin has suggested the Dolores school district adopt a bullying prevention policy.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin is asking the Dolores school district to draft an anti-bullying policy before the next school year.

Nowlin attended the board’s meeting on Thursday to ask them to bring their rules on bullying in line with the state standards. Right now, Dolores policies don’t include a specific plan for bullying prevention, which is required by state law. Board members plan to discuss a potential policy at their next meeting on June 7.

Under Colorado state law, bullying is defined as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture ... that is intended to coerce, intimidate or cause any physical, mental or emotional harm to any student.”

The law also prohibits bullying of Colorado students for any reason, and lists a wide range of protected groups of people against whom students and school staff can’t discriminate. When Nowlin asked if that definition was part of the school policies, the board members didn’t give a definitive answer. The district website includes a sample bullying prevention policy approved by the Colorado Association of School Boards under its policy section, but the school board has never adopted its own rules on the issue.

Nowlin believes it’s time to do so. “We’ve had a lot of incidents, children in crisis, just in the last week,” the sheriff said at the meeting.

He first brought up the issue in January, and board members said they’ve been discussing it ever since. But school board president Linnea Vass said they haven’t been able to agree on the right wording for the policy. Nowlin sent the board a copy of the state definition of bullying and asked them to take it into account when drafting their own.

Superintendent Scott Cooper said he planned to meet with the sheriff the week after the meeting to talk about how staff can work with law enforcement in responding to suicide threats and other crises. “We’ll get on the same page with all the processes ... from the Safe2Tell (hotline) call all the way through to follow up,” he said.

Dolores Elementary School counselor Karen Finch has developed a bullying prevention plan for elementary students, which Vass said teachers have been following for several years. But the district lacks the comprehensive program for all students that CASB rules recommend.

Nowlin said he particularly hopes to see the board develop a strict suicide threat assessment policy and develop procedures to crack down on cyberbullying. He said it’s important to take every report of bullying seriously, and to listen to every student who might have a problem.

In November, Nowlin’s granddaughter, a Dolores student, took her own life in a tragedy that school staff believe may have been related to bullying. Since then, the district has created a school counselor position and hosted several events to address student mental health. The board recently invited Barbara Coloroso, an expert on bullying prevention, to address parents and teachers on April 11. Nowlin said he supports these efforts and hopes to see them continue. “This is a real crisis,” Nowlin said. “But Dolores can actually set the example for other school districts, and you’re headed that way, and I appreciate it.”

Vass and the other board members thanked Nowlin for his work in raising awareness of bullying. They later set June 7 as the date for their public discussion on a new bullying policy.

In the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 district, Assistant Superintendent Dan Porter reported in February that counselors in the district had been instructed to take an inventory of current anti-bullying practices in the district. They also were asked to create a “comprehensive program” to send a clear message to students, parents, staff and community members that bullying would not be tolerated in the district, according to Porter’s Feb. 21 report to the school board.

The Re-1 district’s bullying policy was last updated in March 2013. The policy requires the creation of an anti-bullying program with several goals, including training staff and students in taking proactive steps to prevent bullying, immediately investigating bullying behavior and developing support systems for all students. A student who bullies another student or who retaliates against a student who has reported bullying is subject to disciplinary action, according to the policy. Those actions can include but are not limited to suspension, expulsion or referral to law enforcement authorities, the policy states.

Principal Jason Wayman told The Journal in November that Montezuma-Cortez High School staff members investigate every report of bullying. Though the district doesn’t keep records on bullying per se, he estimated that there were fewer than 10 instances of bullying in which students received disciplinary action at M-CHS during the 2015-2016 school year.