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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Pasco youth summit to address bullying

WESLEY CHAPEL - Pasco schools are calling on the community’s help as they plot ways to battle bullying and other problems facing young people. The school district plans a community summit June 27 at which high school students, parents, educators, representatives of local government agencies, and faith-based and community leaders will discuss ways to help reduce youth violence and encourage students to accept each other’s differences. The event, “Together We Stand — Pasco Youth and Community Summit,” sprang in part from an agreement reached last month with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The federal agency began a discrimination investigation in 2012 after the parents of a Zephyrhills High student filed a complaint saying their son was the victim of “gay baiting” at school, although they say he is not gay.
The student, Zach Gray, suffered brain damage after an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by hanging himself in 2011. The youth summit will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Wesley Chapel High School’s performing arts center on Wells Road. Individuals or groups who want to register can do so at www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z6KJL7K. The deadline to register is Thursday, and space is limited. The summit will involve strategic planning, networking and information sharing “to build resilience and reduce youth violence, including bullying,” according to the school district. The keynote speaker for the event is Roy Kaplan, a consultant who often works with schools on issues such as bullying and discrimination. The agreement with the Office of Civil Rights specifically said the district would hire Kaplan to assist the district in complying with the terms of the agreement. The agreement, among other things, also required the school district to make it clear to students, parents and staff that sex-based harassment won’t be tolerated. On June 4, the school board approved revisions to the student code of conduct to address sex-based harassment. Gray’s attempted suicide was one of several cases that made bullying a significant issue in Pasco County during the past couple of years. Relatives and friends said Sunlake High student Kiefer Allan, 15, shot himself to death in January 2011 after he was bullied on a school bus. Early this year, the attack of a Mitchell High student on a school bus led to the arrest of two students. That incident drew media attention because one of the students posted a video of the attack on the Internet. Bullying has become an issue that goes beyond Pasco, though. The Legislature this year tackled cyberbullying by giving school officials authority to discipline students who engage in online bullying, even when it takes place off campus, if the bullying causes a disruption at school. That law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, goes into effect July 1.

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