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Pasco schools have plan to curb bullying behavior

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Zachery Gray, before his suicide attempt. Zachery Gray, before his suicide attempt.

Nine months after Pasco County's top educator said she didn't have a bullying issue in schools, her successor has launched a comprehensive action plan to curb that problem.

Last May, a News Channel 8 investigation focused on the attempted suicide of Zachery Gray in 2011.  Gray was a Zephyrhills High senior who tried to kill himself, according to his parents, after relentless bullying by other students that teachers failed to stop. He is now permanently brain damaged.

Another student, Sun Lake High freshman Kiefer Allan, did kill himself after a humiliating assault on a school bus in 2011.

The district did not regard either student as a victim of bullying in official reports to the state.

Pasco School Superintendent Kurt Browning, who took office late last year after an election upset, rolled out his new anti-bullying plan this week in a workshop with the school board.

"We want to make sure our kids are safe and make sure our parents feel they're safe," Browning said. 

During the tenure of Browning's predecessor, Heather Fiorentino, very few bullying incidents ended up in official reports forwarded to the state. Browning told his staff to keep better track, and the number of confirmed bullying incidents soared from four in the 2012 school year, to 75 in 2013. The number of unsubstantiated incidents rose from zero in 2012, to 100 in 2013.

"Certainly, bullying is a problem in the Pasco School District," said Browning.

Browning has shaken up his top staff and put together a team to initiate an anti-bullying strategy that ranges from easy reporting on the district website, to training teachers and staff on how to deal with the problem when it arises.

There is a community forum involving educators, families and lawmakers planned for June.

 

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