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Bullying Case Sparks School Policy Review
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A case of bullying has Riverbank Unified School District trustees taking another look at district policy and disciplinary measures for dealing with violence and harassment among students.

Mercedes Sanchez, the parent of a first grader attending California Avenue School, complained in public to the district board at a mid-October meeting that two or three other boys had attacked her son after school previously, pushed him to the ground and struck him. Only the arrival of her sister, Martha Vargas on the scene, stopped further violence, she claimed.

Sanchez reported the assailants to school authorities and Principal Sean Richey disciplined the boys by suspending them from school. But she said her son became fearful and would not play outside the grounds of her house. She was thinking about transferring him to another school district, she said.

Sanchez complained the district had no policy specifying its 'zero tolerance' of bullying and the assailants in this case were punished only with three days suspension.

"They were back in school on Monday. I would have expelled them," she said.

Vargas added she was concerned the district had as long as 60 days to investigate.

Trustee John Mitchell, who saw some photographs that Sanchez passed to the trustees at that meeting, said the only mark he could see on the first grader was a slight scratch or bruise on his back. But obviously, he added, the district could not tolerate any form of violence or bullying among students and it must be stopped and the perpetrators disciplined. He joined trustee Elizabeth Meza in asking the board to discuss the case in closed personnel session, which the board did that same night.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Geisick told trustees the next meeting of their policy review committee was due in a few weeks and he recommended they discuss drawing up a policy specifically on bullying.

Riverbank High School Principal Christine Facella, he said, was concerned about a growing tendency toward "cyberspace bullying" using computers and cell phones. She wished to discuss that subject and incorporate it in written policies.

While the district may not have a specific policy on bullying, Mitchell commented, there are already numerous references in other policies forbidding students to lay hands on, strike, threaten or even verbally harass other students and there are prescribed punishments.

The student handbook for California Avenue School recommends punishments ranging from one to three days suspension for a first offense in cases of striking another student and only recommends expulsion for the third offense.