Lt. Gov. Denn and AG Biden Announce Public Hearing Dates and Plans to Combat Cyberbullying

WILMINGTON – Lt. Governor Matt Denn and Attorney General Beau Biden announced a plan today to put in place an effective statewide policy to combat cyberbullying in Delaware’s schools.  The plan includes statewide public hearings to gather information to be used in developing the cyberbullying policy, and legislation designed to help school districts enforce the new policy.

The Lt. Governor and Attorney General’s plan consists of four steps:

  1. Statewide public hearings in April to gather factual evidence from school administrators and parents about the type of off-campus activity causing disruption in our schools.
  2. The drafting of a statewide cyberbullying policy based upon the evidence gathered at the hearings.
  3. Issuance of a regulation by the state’s Department of Education requiring adoption of the statewide cyberbullying policy by public school districts and charter schools.
  4. A new state law that will allow the Attorney General’s office to defend school districts and charter schools if their good faith enforcement of the statewide cyberbullying policy is subject to legal challenge.

“We need to fight cyberbullying aggressively but also thoughtfully,” said Lt. Governor Denn.  “Around the country, schools have been sued when trying to enforce cyberbullying policies – and even here in Delaware, the one school district that attempted to implement a cyberbullying policy was threatened with litigation.  This approach, where we gather the facts first, write a policy based on those facts, and then stand behind the policy with the full force of our Attorney General’s office, will give us the best chance to deal with this growing problem.”

“Thanks to constant communication and social networking, there is no such thing as a ‘schoolyard bully’ anymore,” saidAttorney General Biden. “Kids who face bullies face them all the time – at home, at school, and everywhere in between. For schools to be the safe places that children deserve, they must be able to effectively fight bullying that may originate off school grounds, but follows its victims 24 hours a day.”

The legislation necessary for implementation of this plan will be introduced in the Senate this week by Senator David Sokola, and will be sponsored in the House of Representatives by Representative Terry Schooley.  Senator Sokola and Representative Schooley are the chairs of their chambers’ respective education committees, and the prime sponsors of companion legislation they introduced with the Lt. Governor and Attorney General earlier this month addressing the reporting of bullying incidents.

“A lot of the kinds of controls that have worked in other media haven’t been as effective in the on-line world because of instantaneous and permanent nature but we know some things have worked,” said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, the bill’s leading sponsor. “And we can’t give up; we need to look at what’s being done to successfully curb cyberbullying elsewhere and use it here.”

“In this age of technology, young people use many different forms of social media, computers and cell phones to communicate and publicly post information,” said Rep. Terry Schooley, D-Newark. “Unfortunately, these means of communication can be used to bully other young people in a more public way than previous generations could ever imagine. By introducing this legislation, we are trying to stay ahead of the curve and protect our children and grandchildren from cyber-bullying and let people know that bullying in any form is wrong and should not be tolerated.”

Hearing dates, times, and locations for the statewide public hearings follow. They are open to the public, with school administrators being asked to testify first to share firsthand experiencesWritten input is also welcome and may be emailed to emily.cunningham@delaware.gov.

New Castle County
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
10:30am – 12:30pm
Carvel State Office Building – auditorium
820 N. French Street
Wilmington

 

Sussex County
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
5:00pm – 7:00pm
Sussex County Administrative Building
2 The Circle
Georgetown

 

Kent County
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
11:30am – 1:30pm
Kent County Levy Court Chamber
555 Bay Road
Dover


Governor Signs Two Education Bills into Law to Help Districts Recruit Great Teachers

Delaware State SealDover – Gov. Jack Markell continued the state’s efforts to put quality teachers in Delaware classrooms, signing two pieces of legislation extending successful teacher recruitment initiatives.

SB 164, sponsored by Sen. Dave Sokola and Rep. Terry Schooley, gives school districts confidence to offer jobs earlier in the year to quality teachers, extending the program another two years. HB 239, also sponsored by Rep. Schooley and Sen. Sokola, extends for three years the state’s authorization in the Teach For America program, offering incentives to place some of the country’s brightest college graduates in the toughest schools.

“We’re fully committed to making our public schools stronger. The most important factor in great schools is great teachers,” Gov. Markell said. “U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is in town tomorrow to take a hard look at how our state is doing in the two years since we won Race to the Top. These bills are further evidence that when it comes to recruiting top talent, we are serious.”

Estimated unit count: As a result of a Teacher Hiring Task Force created by Lt. Governor Matt Denn and Sen. Sokola, legislation signed into law in 2011 allowed Delaware to become competitive with surrounding states in hiring teachers earlier in the year than previously allowed because of the state unit counts.

While the official unit count used to authorize state funding for teachers does not occur until fall, SB 164 extends an ‘estimated unit count’ for the state’s school districts in April of each school year, with school districts guaranteed to receive at least 98 percent of the funds for paying teachers calculated at that earlier point. This estimated unit count allows school districts to have greater confidence in the amount of state funding that they will receive to pay new teachers, and therefore extend earlier hiring offers.

A state Department of Education report on the estimated unit count said that 460 new teachers were hired earlier in 2011 than they would have been otherwise. With regards to its accuracy, the estimated unit count on May 10, 2011 was 8359 and the actual count on September 30, 2011 was 8403.55.

“I am proud to have played a role in this process,” Lt. Governor Denn said of SB 164. “The two-year extension is really going to make a difference in our schools. Hiring teachers as early as possible means they are integrated into the school team, can get their classrooms set up and start focusing on the job of educating instead of waiting on a job in education.”

Teach for America: In April 2009, the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed legislation establishing the Teach for America program in Delaware. TFA is an alternative route to teacher certification program that takes top performing college graduates and places them in challenging schools for two years in return for help with their loans or future education. Some research has shown that Teach for America teachers can have a positive effect on student performance.

Since 2009, there have been more than 60 Teach for America teachers placed in Delaware schools, contributing to the education of approximately 3,000 students. Currently, there are 46 TFA teachers working in 18 Delaware schools in three districts and six charter schools.

HB 239 extends TFA authorization in Delaware for another three years, keeping TFA available as a path towards teaching.

“Delaware has a lot of reasons to be proud of the hard work being done by our public school teachers,” said Sen. Sokola, who chairs the Senate education committee and sponsored both the original early recruiting bill and the extension. “Extending both of these bills makes a lot of sense because it gives us a chance to better evaluate how they’re doing at helping our school seek out and recruit the best teaching talent.”

“These bills give us a couple more tools in the toolbox as we deal with education reform in attracting more young, dedicated people into the field of education,” said Rep. Schooley, who chairs the House Education Committee. “The sunset on the TFA bill allows us to do more analysis on the long-term viability of the program.”


Legislative Study Group Issues Recommendations To Improve Child Mental Health Services

Recommendations Focus on Prevention and Treatment of Child Sex Abuse

DOVER – A special committee charged by the General Assembly with assessing child mental health services in Kent and Sussex County, with a focus on child victims of sexual assault, delivered its findings and recommendations today. The recommendations include the recruitment of new mental health professionals to Sussex County, training for clinicians in detection and treatment of trauma in children, and improved case management of mental health services for children.

The committee, formed by House Joint Resolution #7 in August, 2011, was chaired by Lieutenant Governor Matthew Denn and included input from social service and law enforcement agencies, school district officials, legislators, child mental health experts, and advocates for children with disabilities.

“The recommendations we are making today are targeted, specific, and manageable,” said Lieutenant Governor Denn. “The result if these recommendations are implemented will be more prompt and effective mental health services for all children in Kent and Sussex County, and quicker and more effective intervention for children who are the victims of sexual abuse.”

The recommendations include:

  • Specific recommendations for recruitment of two new child psychiatrists to Sussex County, and recommendations for a new collaborative service approach for those psychiatrists with family doctors and pediatricians.
  • A recommendation for new training for mental health professionals working with children in Kent and Sussex Counties, focused on early detection and treatment of trauma.
  • Recommendations regarding secure funding for the Children’s Advocacy Center’s case managers, and creation of a Kent/Sussex County case manager for child trauma victims who are not treated through the Children’s Advocacy Center.
  • A request for a formal review of the child mental health networks made available by the state’s private and public health insurance carriers, to ensure that those networks are large enough that children are not being subjected to unreasonable travel or waiting periods for mental health services.

A full list of the committee’s recommendations is included in the attached report, which includes a summary of recommendations.

Throughout the committee’s recommendations, it emphasizes the importance of providing services targeted at Kent and Sussex County’s growing Spanish-speaking community.

“I would like to thank the members of this study group for the time they invested in preparing this report,” Lieutenant Governor Denn said. “Through a great deal of collaboration and hard work, they prepared a comprehensive and thoughtful set of recommendations in a very short period of time.”


Lt. Gov. Denn & Attorney General Biden Announce Improved Anti-Bullying Legislation

Rep. Schooley, Sens. Henry and Sokola sponsoring measure to increase reporting of bullying, promote Attorney General’s bullying hotline

Wilmington – Noting that one out of every three middle and high school students report being bullied but many other incidents go unreported, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden and legislative leaders unveiled legislation on Friday that would protect students against bullying and add consistency in how such incidents are reported.

Nationally, 8.2 million students are bullied each year and 1 million are cyber-bullied. About 160,000 students stay home from school on any given day because they’re afraid of being bullied. In Delaware, nearly 20 percent of students surveyed last year reported that another student issued a verbal threat against them, while 30 percent reported that they said something to another student to hurt them.

Lt. Gov. Denn said the proposal contains an important provision requiring the Department of Education to annually audit schools to ensure that they are properly investigating and reporting bullying allegations.

“It’s not just having the numbers, though those are important. Letting parents of kids who were bullied know about it is obvious,” Lt. Gov. Denn said. “Less obvious, but just as important, is letting the parents of kids who are doing the bullying know what is going on. Many of these kids, perhaps most, come from families with interested and active parents, who want their kids to do the right thing in school. If those parents know that their kids are engaged in bullying, they will start taking some strong steps at home to deal with the problem.”

The legislation was developed from multiple community forums Attorney General Biden has held talking to students and parents about bullying, and from conversations he and Lt. Gov. Denn have had with district superintendents.

“Kids deserve to be safe at school, but we need to fully understand the challenges we face in order to hold bullies accountable, prevent future incidents, and help students – both bullies and victims – stay on the right path,” Attorney General Biden said. “This legislation addresses the gaps in Delaware’s law that have led to uneven and inaccurate reporting.”

The legislation, which will be filed next week, would address a lack of consistency in how bullying incidents are reported by school districts. For example, Laurel Middle School, which has a four-star commendable rating, had the highest number of incidents (38 in a 344-student school) during the 2010-11 school year, but William Penn High with 1,981 students had zero reported incidents. And only one incident was reported in the entire Smyrna School District.

Under the bill, school districts would be required to report unsubstantiated claims of bullying to the state Department of Education, in addition to the current requirement for reporting substantiated claims. The current law says substantiated claims must be reported within five business days. Often it takes longer than that for a school administrator to verify a student’s claim, so the incident never gets reported.

Additionally, DOE must audit the districts’ reports of bullying statistics annually. Lastly, the Attorney General’s Office’s bullying hotline (1-800-220-5414) must be posted on each school district’s website and in a conspicuous place in each school.

Rep. Terry Schooley, who is the lead House sponsor of the legislation, said that reducing the instance of bullying starts with everyone treating all instances of reported bullying seriously and not tolerating any form of bullying.

“We’re not talking about the old-fashioned ‘kids will be kids’ instances, these are serious situations that are putting kids at risk. Bullying creates fear and intimidation in our schools, and it leads to students performing poorly in school, not going to school for fear of being bullied or in some cases, committing suicide,” said Rep. Schooley, D-Newark. “There is a reluctance to report bullying, but we need everyone – parents, teachers, administrators and students – to say that they will not tolerate bullying and to report all instances, so we can better address this problem.”

Senate Majority Whip Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, one of the prime sponsors of the legislation, said that protecting children from bullying is paramount.

“There’s no magic fix for bullying, much as all of us wish there were one,” said Sen. Henry, D-Wilmington East, a longtime champion of anti-bullying measures. “But these changes will increase accountability on the part of our schools and conspicuous posting of the bullying hotline number, I think, will give parents another tool to address this problem.”

“Schools need to be a place where students feel safe, and all adults and students need to be willing to respond to any physical, verbal and cyber threats,” said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a strong backer of anti-bullying measures.


Lieutenant Governor Denn and Attorney General Biden to Announce Improved Anti-Bullying Legislation

WILMINGTON – Media are invited to join Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden and legislative leaders for a press conference on Friday, March 2, 2012, where they will unveil stronger anti-bullying legislation, discuss their work on cyber-bullying, and introduce Delawareans to a national Special Olympics program being rolled out in Delaware.

They will be joined by General Assembly sponsors Representative Terry Schooley (D-23rd Rep. District) and Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D-2nd Sen. District). Sen. Henry will be representing legislation sponsor Senator Dave Sokola (D – 8th Sen. District), who cannot attend due to a previous commitment in his role as Chair of the Senate’s Education Committee.

Other invited guests include the Delaware Department of Education, members of the General Assembly who are co-sponsors, members of the Delaware Bullying Prevention Association, Department of Justice, Prevent Child Abuse Delaware, Early Childhood Council, Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families, and Special Olympics.

When: Friday, March 2, 2012
10:00am – 11:00am

Where: Attorney General’s Conference Room
Carvel State Office Building
820 N. French Street, 6th Floor
Wilmington