School district tackles bullying
Being bullied used to consist of physical confrontations, rumors, name-calling. Incidents were more isolated, with only a few witnesses at the scene — a victim was taunted, then the altercation was over.
However, a wave of new technology has allowed bullies to expand their harassment to the Internet, where a wider audience can view their cruel comments via Facebook, Twitter and chat rooms.
“That is the difference between cyber bullying and regular bullying,” said Donna Widmeyer, Charlotte County’s assistant superintendent of school support. “Kids can’t really escape it.”
In 2005, Jeffrey Johnston, a Cape Coral high school student, took his own life after repeatedly being taunted by other students at his school. Jeffrey hanged himself in his closet with the strap of his back pack. After the tragedy, Jeffrey’s mother, Debbie Johnston, went on a relentless campaign to get legislation passed against bullying.
The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act passed in the Florida Legislature in 2008. The law requires all school districts to institute anti-bullying policies that specifically ban harassment and intimidation, create a diligent reporting procedure, require prompt investigation of allegations, and outline consequences for students and school employees who violate the policy.
It also includes a ban
on cyber bullying; however, if the bullying doesn’t take place on school grounds or at school functions, schools are limited on what they can do to
“We really can’t get involved unless it overflows into the school-yard,” said Widmeyer. “You’d think that it would, but bullying has a way of keeping people silent — it’s that powerful. Even parents are afraid to come forward because of fear of retaliation.”
Widmeyer said even if bullying doesn’t occur on school grounds, incidents should still be reported to school principals, resource officers or school counselors who can assess the severity and possibly recommend an investigation. The Charlotte County school district also has a bullying hotline that appears on every school website.
“Bullying is one of those things that when it goes bad, it really goes bad,” said School Board member Lee Swift. “We don’t want anything to escalate, and we try to pursue instances we hear of as best we can.”
Charlotte County recently incorporated bullying into its student wellness plan. Students are disciplined based on the severity of the incident. Widmeyer said some of the top years for bullying include fourth through eighth grade, in which there is an increased number of cases.
“We begin the anti-bullying campaign at the end of third grade,” said Widmeyer. “Now that there is an awareness, I think people get confused on what bullying
For an altercation to be considered bullying, it must be unwanted, repeated, and there has to be a “power differentiation” between the perpetrator and the target, according to Widmeyer. About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly, according to a study conducted by the Cyber Bullying Research Center.
While 35 states encourage schools to spell out anti-bullying policies, Florida is only the second state to penalize schools that don’t comply. Under the law, Florida schools will also have to follow up on reports of bullying by contacting the parents of all students involved, including the bullies.