October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Concerned schools and groups around the nation are sponsoring programs and promoting special teal-colored products to recognize and emphasize the critical importance of this age old but growing problem.
Bullying is no longer limited to physical altercations on the school grounds. Bullies have found a new and easy way to harm their victims by utilizing the internet. Statistics have found 58% of our youth have been attacked via the internet at least once. Repetitive verbal assaults have occurred in 25% of those cases. The reality is both numbers are probably low due to the reluctance of victims to report internet attacks.
The potential consequences of bullying are almost unimaginable -multiple teens and even pre-teens have taken their own lives this school year around the country, including right here in Polk County.
Florida recognized the problem and in 2008 enacted a law placing a duty on the public school system to take action when a student is victimized by bullying. In the context of the school setting, the definition of bullying includes public or private humiliation, teasing, social isolation, threats and intimidation, or harassment based on sex, religion or race.
Recognizing the reality that many bullying attacks take place over the internet, the law requires that the school intervene to stop bullying. Said responsibility extends even when the incident does not take place on school grounds. If it was done through electronic devices and interferes with the victim’s educational pursuits or disrupts the schooling process, the school has the right and the responsibility to intervene. The school is also required to immediately notify parents (of both the victim and the bully) of any reported incident without regard to whether the school can take action. The school is also required to report to the “local agencies where criminal charges can be pursued” . School systems throughout the state run the risk of significant civil liability for foreseeable harm resulting from their failure to comply with these requirements.
Obviously the key to start the school’s investigative and disciplinary process is for the victim to report the bullying. Children should be encouraged to immediately notify a parent, teacher or other responsible adult whenever bullying occurs. The school should also be notified through a school employee, teacher or volunteer. In many instances the school will be best equipped to bring the bullying to a halt.
“Remember, the End of Bullying Begins With You!”