Bristol Warren schools take on dating violence

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Teen dating violence is a growing problem, and Bristol Warren school committee members took the first steps Monday night to tackle violence in and out of their schools.

The Bristol Warren Regional School Committee approved the first reading of a new policy which would spell out standards for students involved in relationships, and for those who see abusive relationships. It also gives the district clear policies to try to eliminate violent dating relationships. The committee passed the new policy's first reading unanimously and will take it up again next month.

This is something that's becoming a big problem," said committee member Bill O'Dell, who helped come up with the new policy as head of the policy subcommittee.

The district has had similar policies in place for years, but the committee was charged with drafting a standalone policy by the state Department of Education.

Among other things, the proposal would require that students and others who see evidence of abusive relationships report that action to school officials. Those who fail to do so, the policy warns, may be subject to disciplinary action.

That point made committee member Karen Lynch wary.

"In a perfect world we would want every single one of our kids to come forward," she said. "But … especially if it's a friend who has come to you in confidence, I think  the threat of disciplinary action makes me concerned."

Mr. O'Dell said he understood her concerns, but said "we felt it was still our obligation to place a very strong emphasis on what … a person's responsibility is."

Fortunately, committee member Diane Campbell said, the keyword is "may" face action.

"I think that gives principals … some latitude in judging who should have been saying something."

The policy would establish other ground rules to prevent dating violence, including ways to keep students who may have been in abusive relationships out of each other's classrooms.

To read the full text of district's teen dating proposal, see www.eastbayri.com. Note that the document is still in draft form and has not yet been passed.

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