Signal Article 2-12-09

School Bullying: County Assigns Liaison to Acton DistrictConsultant Charged with Implementing Project 51

By Brian Charles
Signal Staff Writer

Brian Charles Photo

Dec. 30, 2008

Michelle Barritt's newest job is to help transform an anti-bullying campaign from one man's idea into a policy for a local school district and the rest of the county's schools.

Jeff Lasater founded Project 51 after his son committed suicide in a bathroom Oct. 22 at Vasquez High School.

The program touts heavy-handed discipline for repeat bullies and creates a toll-free support number. Bullying might have played a role in Jeremiah Lasater's suicide.

"I think a lot of school districts will welcome this program. The program pieces together the school, parents, the child and the community and uses the ‘it takes a village' approach," Barritt said about Project 51.

She is the youth development consultant for the county's Educational Coordinating Council.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted Project 51 on Dec. 9 and charged the council with helping the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District implement the plan, Barritt said. Vasquez High is in the district.

L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich is one of Project 51's earliest backers and asked Barritt to spearhead the pilot program, but winter vacation stalled implementing the program until Jan. 5.

The district board agreed in principal to adopt Project 51 on Dec. 11 but hedged on fully adopting the program because the discipline components don't conform to the state education code, Barritt said. "(The board members) don't want to lock themselves in," she said.

District officials in the county want flexibility in disciplining students and some elements of Project 51 take away the board's discretion, Barritt said.

"Are there therapeutic remedies that are more effective than sending them home?" Barritt said. "For some of these students, home is not a safe place."


Barritt sees plenty of potential in Project 51.

"If this works in Acton, it could be expanded to school districts throughout the county," she said.
Project 51 is already making strides to stamp out bullying, Jeff Lasater said.

The Project 51 hot line received a call from an 11-year-old student whose friend was being bullied in school.

"The girl was too scared to tell anyone," he said. Lasater contacted the school and the parents of the child who was being taunted.

School officials will investigate the incident after winter recess, Lasater said.

He asked the parents of the bullied child to take a special step in avoiding a tragedy.

"I told the parents to give the kid a hug and tell her that's what Project 51 is all about," he said. "I want to see this go nationwide. This program can help so many kids."

Several calls made by The Signal to members of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District were not returned.