By Tim McCarthy
One year after the creation of the state's anti-bullying law, Haverhill school officials said they are seeing positive results.
Principals said the district's new system for reporting bullying incidents has allowed them to crack down quickly.
Though thankful for the increased protection, some parents say the rules don't go far enough in protecting their children and punishing bullies.
Haverhill High Principal Bernard Nangle said that about a year ago, school officials became aware of a website called "Haverhill's Phattest" that made fun of the looks and clothing of some students from Haverhill, Whittier Regional High and Andover High. He said a parent complained about the site to school officials, who contacted police. They were able to eliminate the site from the Internet, but did not discover who created it, he said.
Nangle said the site contained photos of about 20 students. It existed for three weeks, he said.
School officials said they continue to be vigilant of bullying, whether it is electronic as in the website, verbal or physical.
Nangle said Haverhill High officials have received three reports of bullying this year and about 40 reports last year. Of those, 15 required action beyond the reporting of the incident, he said. Most of the reports involved name-calling, while the second most common was harassing text messages, he said.
School Committee member Paul Magliocchetti said he plans to raise the bullying issue at an upcoming School Committee meeting. He said the number of incidents at Haverhill High seems excessive.
"One is too many," he said. "The kids have to understand we're living in a very different world now."
The anti-bullying law, passed in May of 2010 following the suicides of two Massachusetts students, requires school districts to create methods of reporting and documenting bullying in school, online or elsewhere. In addition, the law also requires classes about bullying intervention for both students and educators.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Malone said principals have noticed a decrease in incidents since the push for anti-bullying education last year.
"The schools are trying to actively deal with the reports," Malone said. "You want to work through and want to stop it."
All schools use the same incident-reporting sheets which require investigators to list what form of bullying — either cyber or in person — was committed, the names of those involved and how the school will resolve the issue.
The district hosted an informational night on Haverhill's anti-bullying policies for parents in September, explaining how parents should report incidents and how to handle issues with their children.
Parents attending the meeting said they were happy with information their children received, but still had concerns.
Parent Renee McGuire said she prefers to see more action, legal or otherwise, taken against the parents of children who bully other students.
"The bottom line is I feel parents should be held accountable," she said.
Parent Alicia Smolar said she was surprised by the lack of district and state accountability.
"There has to be level after level of check-ups," she said. "Everyone in the school district has to be made aware."
Despite parents' concerns, school principals said the efforts to reduce bullying are paying off.
Consentino School had just three incidents reported last year, according to Principal Stephen Sierpina.
He said each incident is investigated by the staff.
"You need to be proactive with something like this," he said.