Haverhill is pushing back against bullies.
The school district, in addition to every public and private district throughout the state, must present to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education their complete anti-bully policies by Dec. 31.
But Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Mary Malone, in addition to student led anti-violence groups, said the district has already made progress towards the state's expectations.
"Bullying and harassment have always been handled in Haverhill public schools," Malone said. "Now it's a law. We're still working on developing bullying curriculum as are many other districts throughout the state."
Though a preliminary draft of Haverhill's proposal to the state isn't ready yet, Malone said educators and administrators received free training in August by Boston Attorney Darren Klein and a teacher in-service day on Nov. 2.
Malone said the district purchased posters for all classrooms outlining ways students and teachers should respond to incidents of bullying.
The Massachusetts anti-bullying law, signed into effect on May 3 following a rash of bullying-related suicides nationwide, stipulates that schools throughout the state must draft a state-approved set of rules that cover both traditional bullying methods, such as violence or name-calling, and new bullying techniques such as phone texting and web interactions.
The most important change in school policies dictated by the law, according to Malone, is that schools are now responsible for handling cases of bullying which occur off school property, but create a hostile environment back in school.
All school staff members witnessing bullying must now report the incidents to principals. In addition, principals must now become involved in both on- and off-campus incidents.
"It's more responsibility for the administration," Malone said. "The law now has some teeth."
Police and administrators feel they're up to the challenge.
Haverhill High School Resource Officer Sean Scharneck, who's worked with the high school for the last nine years, said these responsibilities are nothing new for the Police Department, but new phone and web-based ways that teenagers communicate has made reporting all the more important.
"We've dealt with bullying before it became a catchphrase," Scharneck said. "We've dealt with it as harassment. We've always dealt with it."
Students are also speaking out against the violence
Haverhill High students on the Violence Intervention and Prevention's Anti-Bullying Committee created a short public service announcement over the summer on the repercussions of bullying for both the victim and the abuser.
The video was first shown to the public at the Oct. 14 School Committee meeting and since been distributed throughout the district. It portrays Scharneck retracing the final days of a student pushed too far by bullying.
Rosnic Rosario, 17, a junior at Haverhill High and a member of the VIP team, said the VIP team realized bullying throughout the middle schools had become an important issue for them to explore and try to stop.
"Too bad it has taken this much time," she said.
The VIP team has begun a pilot anti-bullying program at Tilton Middle School primarily to fight ongoing issues of name calling.