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Brentwood Council prepares anti-bullying ordinance

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:18 p.m.

Brentwood leaders are looking to provide resources to parents of chronic bullies to help put an end to the behavior.

Those that fail to seek help from community-based therapeutic services, yet continue to bully, could face a fine from the municipality, if an ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Stephanie Fox gets final approval from council.

“We don't want to go into penalties right away. We want to make the parents aware and the child aware that it's the wrong behavior,” Fox said. “The hope is, too, that once the police are involved and they see that this is a serious problem that we can stop this from escalating and any child from being further damaged…. It's the consequences-to-your-actions theory.”

Brentwood Council, in a unanimous vote last week, authorized the borough manager and solicitor to prepare an anti-bullying ordinance. Allegheny League of Municipalities executive director Dick Hadley said this is the first municipal-based anti-bullying ordinance he has heard of in the region.

The details of the ordinance and how it will be enforced are still being worked out, said borough Manager George Zboyovsky, who has requested a copy of an anti-bullying ordinance passed in Monona, Wis. in 2013, which allows for fines of $114 to $177 to be issued to parents whose children repeatedly bully others.

“That will be a start,” Zboyovsky said. “We'll have to see what we're permitted to do…. We can't do anything that we're not legally allowed to do.”

Fox, who said she was bullied as a middle school student in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, has been looking for ways for Brentwood to be proactive with bullying and cyberbullying, she said.

The borough started an anti-bullying committee in February after Fox, who monitors her children's social media accounts, said she found a posting from a classmate threatening to harm herself.

Fox, who was appointed to a seat on Brentwood council earlier this year, said she found other communities across the country, like Ridgefield, N.J., that have adopted anti-bullying policies and ordinances. Her hope is for Brentwood to do the same.

“Part of that ordinance could be … basically a bullying and harassment ordinance including a provision that holds parents responsible for children who are repeatedly bullying others,” she said. “Parents who would ignore warnings from the borough, the police, whoever would see it, could either choose counseling, a parental class, a referral to counseling for their child. If they refuse, they would be subject to a fine.”

The ordinance will address situations where: “someone keeps threatening to beat my child up and I don't know what to do,” Fox said. “The goal is to mediate and offer help to either side…. Initially, you don't want to fine someone right off the bat.”

The focus will be on chronic bullying, or harassment, Fox said. “It's not on, ‘so and so called someone a name.'”

Brentwood police Chief Robert Butelli said police already investigate calls about possible bullying to determine if a crime has been committed. Bullying could fall under harassment or disorderly conduct charges, if it is found to be a repeated, threatening behavior, he said.

“If it's a juvenile, we meet with the parents,” he said.

Police attempt to work with the parents so that corrective action can be taken, Butelli said.

Fox said she wants to get police training to learn how to better handle bullying situations.

The Allegheny League of Municipalities at its recent conference at Seven Springs held a program for about 300 elected officials regarding a community-wide approach to handling problems with bullying, Hadley said.

School leaders can only do so much, Fox said.

“Our job would be to take it outside the school,” she said.

Brentwood Borough School District has several programs to address bullying in the schools, Superintendent Ronald Dufalla said.

The district in 2009 implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a program used worldwide. In the elementary schools, this has led to bi-weekly class meetings where students discuss any concerns they might have, Dufalla said.

At Moore Elementary, the district has implemented an anti-bullying club, Dufalla said. Middle school students hold weekly advisory meetings, where they learn about character education and once a month the focus is on bullying prevention.

All school districts, as required by state code, must have a bullying manual with procedures outlining how to address the issue, Dufalla said.

“The district has to be careful that it's not overstepping its legal boundaries,” Dufalla said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

New Jersey town creates own rules for bullying

A state law in New Jersey that outlined regulations for bullying only in schools, prompted leaders in Ridgefield, N.J., a town of about 11,000, to create their own rules, Mayor Anthony Suarez said.

“We see it's not just in schools. You get the bullying on the playground and in the community,” he said. “We wanted it to be all encompassing.”

An anti-bullying committee with seven members and four alternates was created with people from all walks of life: PTA members, a former pro-wrestler, a librarian and the recreation director.

They focus on creating awareness about bullying, by speaking at local events and having booths at borough functions, Suarez said.

An anti-bullying policy, also, was passed by borough council in 2011 that allows chronic bullies to be removed from programs or activities. So far, that has not happened, Suarez said.

A form on the borough's website and hotline allows residents to report bullying.

The hope is to implement training for sports and recreation programs in the future about bullying, Suarez said.

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