Policy on Bullying

Each person at St. Mark’s has the right to participate fully in the life of the School without experiencing bullying or cyber bullying.  The School recognizes and respects individual differences, and does not discriminate or tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or any other prohibited criteria as set forth in applicable state or federal law.  

To ensure an environment of mutual respect, tolerance, and sensitivity, every member of the community, including students, faculty, and staff, must recognize and adhere to certain guidelines for appropriate behavior. Inappropriate behavior towards others, whether verbal or physical, is unacceptable. Such behavior includes unwelcome physical advances; discriminatory comments between any two individuals or groups of individuals; or words, acts, or gestures that cause physical or emotional harm, cause a reasonable fear of harm, create a hostile environment, or otherwise infringe on the rights of another.  

St. Mark’s values cooperation over self-interest, and encourages each person to explore his or her place in the larger world beyond our campus. Therefore, St. Mark’s is committed to providing all students with a safe learning environment that is free from bullying and cyber-bullying. This commitment is an integral part of our comprehensive efforts to encourage learning, to promote respect, and to prevent anything that impedes the learning process.  

From the time they enter St. Mark’s, students learn that as members of our community they have a right to be treated with civility and respect and bear an obligation to treat others with dignity and respect. These values are emphasized by faculty and peer leaders as they provide oversight in St. Mark’s dormitories. In our curriculum, we focus on respect and relationship issues in our Third Form Seminar course as well as in our Fourth Form Human Relations and Sexuality course. In both our advisory and leadership discussion groups, we highlight respect issues and their impact on individuals and community. It is our expectation that student leaders play an important role in identifying, confronting, and reporting behaviors that are detrimental to others and assist the School in creating a safer community for all. In a School that embraces character and leadership as core values, we ask our students to have the courage to uphold and defend our standards.  

The School’s Student Handbook includes explicit policies addressing bullying and acceptable use of technology at St. Mark’s, and this Handbook is reviewed with students and shared with parents each Summer and Fall. When necessary, parents are notified and asked to reinforce behavioral standards relevant to membership in the St. Mark’s community.  

Definitions Under the Law

The following definitions are drawn from the Massachusetts law against bullying (M.G.L. c.71, s. 370). Note, however, that stricter standards of behavior may apply under the School’s policies in order that we may prevent inappropriate verbal and physical conduct before a student has been subject to bullying as it is defined under law. For example, although the law defines bullying as “repeated use” of certain expressions, acts, and/or gestures, the School reserves the right to apply disciplinary measures and other corrective action in the case of even a single expression, act or gesture, if the School determines it to be of sufficient severity to warrant disciplinary measures or other remedial action or that the repetition of such expression, act, or gesture might reasonably result in bullying as defined by law.  

Aggressor.  An aggressor is a student who engages in bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation.  

Bullying. Bullying is defined as, the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at a target that:              

         • causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target’s property;              

         • places the target in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property;             

         • creates a hostile environment at School for the target;              

         • infringes on the rights of the target at School; or              

         • materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of the School.  

Bullying may include conduct such as physical intimidation or assault, including intimidating an individual into taking an action against his/her will; oral or written threats; teasing; put-downs; name-calling; stalking; threatening looks, gestures, or actions; unkind rumors; false accusations; and social isolation.  

Under Massachusetts law and at St. Mark's School, bullying carried out in electronic form is considered bullying, but isnonetheless given a separate term "cyber-bullying".

Cyber-bullying: Cyber-bullying is bullying carried out through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyber-bullying also includes:  

         • the creation of a web page or blog (including all forms of social media such as Facebook, MySpace, etc.) in which the creator assumes the identity of another person;  

         • the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions enumerated above in the definition of bullying; and             

         • the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if such distribution or posting creates any of the conditions enumerated above in the definition of bullying.  

Cyber-bullying may include conduct such as sending derogatory, harassing or threatening email messages, instant messages, or text messages; creating websites that ridicule, humiliate, or intimidate others; and posting on websites or disseminating embarrassing or inappropriate pictures or images of others.  

Hostile Environment. Hostile environment is defined as a situation in which bullying causes the School environment to be permeated with intimidation, ridicule or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of a student’s educational experience.  

Retaliation. Retaliation is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.  

Target. Target is a student against whom bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation has been perpetrated.  

Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, and Retaliation are Prohibited.

St. Mark’s will not tolerate any form of bullying or cyber-bullying, nor will it tolerate retaliation against any person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.    Bullying and cyber-bullying are prohibited on School grounds; on property immediately adjacent to School grounds; at a School-sponsored or School-related activity, function or program, whether on or off School grounds; in a vehicle owned, leased or used by the School; or through the use of any technology or electronic device owned, leased or used by the School.   In addition, bullying and cyber-bullying are prohibited at locations, activities, functions, or programs that are not School-related, or are perpetrated through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned by the School, if the bullying creates a hostile environment at School for a targeted student, infringes on the rights of a targeted student at School, or materially and substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the School.  

Reporting Bullying or Retaliation

Any student who believes that he or she is a victim of bullying behavior should report any such activity to the Dean of Students, the Dean of Residential Life, or any other faculty or staff member with whom they would feel comfortable making the report. Among those who could help are advisors, faculty members administrators, supervisors, the Chaplain, or the School Counselor. However, any student who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation will be subject to discipline.   Any parent or guardian who believes that a student has been the subject of bullying or retaliation should immediately report the matter to the Dean of Students. Student and parent/guardian reports of bullying may be made anonymously to the Dean of Students or Head of School, although no disciplinary action will be taken against a student solely on the basis of an anonymous report.   Any faculty or staff member who has witnessed or otherwise become aware of any bullying or retaliation must, by law, report it immediately to the Dean of Students or the Head of School.  

School Response to Allegations of Bullying or Retaliation

Preliminary Considerations. When a complaint of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation is brought to the attention of the Dean of Students or the Head of School, an assessment will be made as to whether any initial steps need to be taken to protect the well-being of both the students who were targeted and any student who reported the incident or who provides information during the investigation. As appropriate, strategies such as increased supervision may be implemented to prevent further bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation during an investigation.   The range of disciplinary action for bullying or cyber-bullying is the same as for other forms of student misconduct and will be subject to applicable procedural requirements. Possible disciplinary responses normally include, as with other Major School Rule Violations, Dorm or Room Restriction, Dorm Warning, Campus Restriction, Major Campus Restriction, Suspension, Disciplinary Probation and Dismissal.  

Investigation. Once any written allegation of bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation is received, a prompt investigation of the charge will be conducted by the Dean of Students’ Office. The investigation will follow the procedures for all disciplinary infractions, and will take into account all of the relevant circumstances including the nature of the allegations and the ages of the students involved.   If the Dean of Students, in consultation with the Head of School, determines that bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation has occurred, he shall:  

         • promptly notify the local law enforcement agency if he believes that criminal charges may be pursued against the aggressor.  

         • take appropriate disciplinary action, which may include the full range of disciplinary sanctions for other forms of student misconduct, up to and including, dismissal from the School.  

         • notify the parent/guardians of the target and of the aggressor of this finding and of the School’s planned response.  

           • report to the administrator of another school, if the incident of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation involves students from another secondary school.  

During an investigation, the School cannot assure strict confidentiality, because information must be shared in order to conduct an effective investigation. However, the School will only release information concerning complaints of bullying, cyber-bullying, and/or retaliation in accordance with state and federal laws restricting access to student records, and otherwise on a legitimate, need-to-know basis, in each case as determined by the School.  

Resolution and Follow-Up

Upon the close of the investigation, and possible disciplinary action, School personnel will promptly provide notice to the parent/guardian of the target and the aggressor. If appropriate, the Dean of Students Office will contact the target to determine whether there has been any recurrence or retaliation of the prohibited conduct.  

For all reports of bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation, the School will retain a report of the complaint, containing the name of the complainant, the date of the complaint, a brief statement of the nature of the complaint, the outcome of the investigation, and the responsive action taken. These documents, and any other documents relating to an incident of bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation, will be kept confidential in accordance with the federal and state laws governing student records.  

Finally, the School will work with both the student who has engaged in bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation, and the student who has been the target of such behavior, and their parents or guardians, to determine the need for additional counseling. In the event that the School determines that any student would benefit from counseling that the School cannot provide, the School will endeavor to provide the family with an appropriate referral.

Notification and Training

The School will provide written notice of the relevant student-related sections of this policy to students and parents/guardians at least annually. The notification to students will be in age-appropriate terms. Relevant portions of the policy will be included in the Student Handbook.

The School will post the entire policy on its website.

Reviewing and Updating This Plan This plan will be reviewed annually as part of the School’s yearly review of the Student Handbook rules and policies.

This Plan is intended to (1) prevent bullying, cyber-bullying and retaliation among our students, (2) encourage students and their parents to have confidence in the School’s procedures and to come forward promptly whenever a student is subject to conduct that is prohibited by this or any other School policy; and (3) implement appropriate discipline and other corrective measures when they are found to be warranted.

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