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Concerned over widespread reports of bullying, the Italian government has told high schools around the country to add a grade for conduct to students’ report cards.

Students failing to achieve a passing mark will have to repeat the year, according to a report filed by ANSA, an Italian news agency.

The measure doesn’t affect the four Department of Defense Dependents Schools high schools in Italy.

But Tricia Cassiday, student services coordinator for DODDS-Europe, says the system already has curriculum, procedures and punishments in place to combat bullying.

The potential for bullying exists in any school in any country, Cassiday said, and is certainly not a problem in just Italy.

"Where we are extremely different is in our approach," she said.

DODDS doesn’t assign a specific grade for student conduct, though students’ actions can be calculated into some marks, particularly in elementary school.

Instead, DODDS educators try to tackle the problem before it surfaces.

"We take a proactive approach," Cassiday said. That starts with telling students that bullying is wrong and explaining why.

Educators can point to deadly school shootings in the States to illustrate their point.

Students who have felt targeted have brought guns to school and killed those whom they believed were tormenting them. More often, Cassiday said, bullying damages the victim’s self-esteem and can cause long-term emotional problems.

DODDS students are encouraged to not only tell school officials when they’re being bullied but also to watch out for other students as well.

"We’ve stressed that," she said. "No matter how much adults work at it, it’s the kids that keep the schools safe. We try to give them as many avenues as we can."

Students can report bullying to a teacher, a counselor or an administrator.

They can often do so anonymously by putting a note in a box set up for that purpose.

Cassiday, who is in charge of 148 counselors for DODDS-Europe, said students can often work out their differences in counseling sessions that don’t involve any punishment.

The maximum punishment a student could receive at an Italian school has been a two-week suspension, according to the ANSA report.

DODDS administrators can suspend students for bad behavior as well.

Cassiday said there is not a single set of rules that principals use, so punishments will vary on a case-by-case basis. But committees at individual schools can also choose to expel a student.

That decision will often prompt a base commander to send the student back to the States.

Margret Menzies, a public affairs officer for DODDS-Europe, said that happened in only a handful of cases last year.

Misbehaving students in Italy have turned up on the Internet in a number of episodes filmed at schools.

The ANSA report noted students taunting disabled peers, vandalizing facilities, setting fire to peers’ or teachers’ hair and even sexual assaults in classroom and toilets.

Cassiday acknowledged there probably is some bullying at all DODDS schools.

But she said educators believe their approach not only limits the problem, but serves to make students better adults as well.

Without a proactive approach, "I think our schools would not be as safe as they are," she said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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