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Fairfield Schools Prepare to Tackle Bullying

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Andrea Leonardi says she’s ready for the monumental task of making bullying in Fairfield Schools a thing of the past.

Leonardi, director of Special Education and Pupil Services for Fairfield Public Schools , recently briefed the Board of Education on “Version 1.0” of her plan to change the climate among Fairfield students. The program’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the kind of environment that can lead to bullying.

“Our schools address school climate all the time. They’re constantly addressing school climate in the programs they create, in the different recognitions they create,” Leonardi said. “At the building level, this is not new work. But it is, however, new work at the district level.”

The state legislature passed new anti-bullying regulations over the summer. Fairfield has already started some programs, but the district’s main work will begin in January.

The new law requires districts to appoint “school climate coordinators” at each school and in the central office. Leonardi will oversee the program as the district coordinator. Each school will appoint a teacher or administrator to serve the same role. These staff members will receive extra training each school year and will make sure the new policies are carried out at each school.

Each school’s coordinator will also serve on a districtwide “climate team” with Leonardi. The committee is required by the state law, but Fairfield decided to expand the team by inviting parents and students from across all grade levels to join.

Leonardi said that one of the main things she will stress to parents and teachers is that the new program is “not just about discipline.” All school employees are required to report suspected acts of bullying, even as minor as “mean-spirited behavior.” Administrations might not act on all incidents directly, but they’ll use the information they collect to find ways to make school environments more positive.

If reports of bullying are verified and warrant attention, schools will provide counseling to both the perpetrators and the victims along with their parents. Bullies will be taught empathy and be asked to explain their actions. Victims will learn ways to decrease their chances of being bullied in the future.

“These are children. They will make mistakes,” Leonardi said. “They will do things that they learn in other arenas and bring them into school. We need to help to teach them new skills and complement them.”

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