If you were ever the unfortunate target of another student’s aggression at school, recent action by school district officials may elicit a cheer of victory.
Bullying is a pernicious and insidious form of physical and verbal abuse. The victims, who are often vulnerable children, usually suffer silently, fearful that speaking out will result in vengeance. The emotional scars can follow them for the rest of their lives. And tragically for some, enduring such pain is too much to bear.
Which is why the Tooele County School District’s new anti-bullying policy is one of the most important pieces of administrative action the school board has taken yet this year. Called “Prohibition of Bullying, Cyber-bullying, Harassment, Hazing and Retaliation,” the six-page document, in development for months and adopted by the school board on Feb. 11, specifies how to respond to the problem.
As reported in last Thursday’s A-1 story, “District hopes new policy will help stop bullying,” the effort behind the policy is to legally and effectively discipline the bully, and to reach out, assist and protect the victim.
The policy defines bullying, disciplinary action administrators may take, and steps for notifying parents. Bullying is defined as intentionally endangering the physical health or safety of a student or school employee, and is done to place that student or employee in fear of physical harm or harm to their property. It can also include repeated aggressive behavior that is intended to cause distress over time.
Consequences or penalties may include but are not limited to student suspension or removal from a school-sponsored team or activity, or student suspension or expulsion from school. Lesser disciplinary action may also result.
The policy requires that school officials must notify parents if their child is being bullied. A prompt investigation by a school administrator and a written report is required of every complaint. Furthermore, direct action is mandated to protect the victim from further bullying, cyber-bullying on social media, harassment, hazing, or retaliation for reporting the abuse.
In conjunction with the policy, the school district will soon unveil a district-wide “Tip Line” that will allow students, parents and others a way to confidentially report bullying by phone, text or online.
The new policy is anything but a knee-jerk reaction. According to a recent state survey of sixth to twelfth grade students, bullying on school property is on the rise in Tooele County. The survey revealed that local students being picked on or bullied on school property rose from 14.5 percent in 2011 to 23.4 percent in 2013. There also was an increase in the percentage of students who said they missed at least one day of classes because they felt unsafe at school or on the way to school.
The new anti-bullying policy, with the word “prohibition” in its title, may be ambitious in scope and could present broad challenges for the school district to implement and enforce. But it is a step in the right direction, and creates an opportunity for change with benefits to come. Tooele County School District officials are acknowledged for tackling the problem instead of reverting to denial. Bullying will never disappear by turning the other way.