Bullying is a problem schools have dealt with for multiple generations. To varying degrees from school to school, there are students who choose to intimidate, taunt or threaten other students.
But with the increasing use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and others, it has opened a door for forms of bullying that previously were not a problem. This, at least in part, prompted a new state law signed by the governor in 2013 requiring schools to document and report bullying incidents to the state.
Wendy Hite, director of special services for the Wawasee Community School Corporation, said the new law brought more awareness to the issue of bullying. Schools were not neglecting it before, she noted, but the increasing use of wireless devices and social media has increased the concern about bullying. Students are able to access mobile devices and “students will sometimes say things online they would never say face to face,” she said.
National Bullying Prevention Month is October and schools are required by Oct. 15 to have some type of an event to address bullying. It can vary from school to school and be a school assembly, a guest speaker or something else.
According to the school corporation’s specific policy addressing bullying, state law defines it as “overt, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications transmitted, physical acts committed, or any other behaviors committed by a student or group of students against another student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate, or harm the other student.” Bullying can include, but is not limited to, stalking, intimidating, menacing, coercion, name calling, taunting, making threats and hazing.
Wawasee schools have tools in place to deal with bullying. In addition to the policy on bullying, the policies for school safety and wireless communication devices also address bullying. Those policies, and all WCSC policies, are available online at wawaseeschools.org.
A major thrust against bullying would be the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, more commonly known as PBIS. It is used district wide and focuses on teaching positive behaviors to students. Hite said years ago, students were punished if they did something wrong but were not taught positive behaviors.
At the elementary level, fifth-graders have been trained to help identify kids who need extra help. Sometimes these are the kids who have been victims of bullying. In high school, peer facilitators will at times discover issues associated with bullying and report those to administrators.
Through the student assistance program with the Bowen Center, now used district wide, every student is entitled to two free sessions with a therapist if needed. Hite emphasized, though, even after those two sessions funding sources are available to cover more sessions.
And a mental health first aid course was recently offered free to the public in Syracuse in hopes of raising awareness of bullying and other issues.
Hite noted addressing bullying is an ongoing issue and not just a one-time event before Oct. 15. She said educators are intentional and mindful when educating their students.
Bullying is not easy to define, especially with the advent of social media. “It can look many different ways to different people,” she said, noting the state’s definition is not clear.
The number of incidents have possibly increased since social media started, but are not reported to the state until the end of the school year.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series on school bullying policies. Additional articles regarding the policies at Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation and Warsaw Community School Corporation will also be posted.]