Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

February 2, 2014

The war on bullying


Mineral Wells Index

— By TYLER MASK

When one first considers the term bully, iconic characters such as Biff Tannen from Back to the Future, or Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story may first come to mind.

As funny as these bully stereotypes may seem, the reality is that bullies really do exist and really do harm people, be it emotionally or physically.

One of the areas where bullying may be most prevalent is in our school system. Beyond just the halls and dark corners of schools where kids have notoriously picked fights from what seems like the beginning of time, bullying has gained a whole new edge with the introduction of the internet and social media. And Mineral Wells ISD is no exception to this rule.

According to MWISD, bullying occurs when a student or groups of students engage in written or verbal expression or physical conduct that:

1) Will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or of damage to the student’s property.

2) Is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for a student.

Acts of bullying per MWISD include:

• Hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, hair pulling, or throwing something.

• Getting another person to hit or harm the student.

• Teasing, name-calling, making critical remarks, or threatening, in person or by other means.

• Demeaning and making the victim of pokes.

• Making rude and/or threatening gestures.

• Excluding or rejecting the student.

• Intimidating (bullying), extorting, or exploiting.

• Spreading harmful rumors or gossip.

“The term bullying became popular four or five years ago,” MWISD high school Counselor Cortney Trammell said. “I truly believe bullying has occurred since school [began]. ‘It was just a right of passage,’ is what our parents and grandparents thought.

“It was not that big of a deal. And I think the bullying is becoming more and more severe.”

One of the first problems with bullying is that it can be made light of at times and is often over-looked.

“The biggest issue is that most people don’t report bullying,” Trammell said. “‘It’s just part of life and it’s part of growing up’ is what a lot of parents and different people think, and so it’s not reported as often as it occurs.”

On the flip-side, the term bullying can be taken out of hand as well.

“The key to bullying is persistence,” Trammell said. “If it’s a one time incident, a lot of the times it’s not considered bullying.

“Now if it is a one time incident and it’s very severe, that can be considered bullying.”

Another central problem with bullying is that, despite the stereotypical big kid giving little Johnny a black eye for his lunch money, the effects of bullying are becoming more emotional and permanent than they are physical and instances of “kiss and make up.”

“Kids are getting more cruel with their bullying,” Trammell said. “Used to, if a kid called you a name, it was not that big of a deal.

“But now (with socialmedia) they can call you a name and they can totally ruin your reputation because they can put it out there for your boss, for [college] recruiters for your parents to see. It can just totally ruin someone’s image. There is no taking it back once it’s on the internet.”

To make things worse, instances of cyber bullying are growing.

“We’ve actually had more cyber bullying than bullying this year,” Trammell said. “Cyber bullying has become very popular because [students] think they are anonymous and it doesn’t affect them at school if they do it on the internet.”

Trammell said that no one is invincible to bullying. It could be the most popular kid in school who seems too perfect, to the kid that comes from a background of poverty.

“There is no socio-economic status, there is no racial/ethnic group that is not susceptible to bullying,” Trammell said. “It can be anybody.”

She also stressed that the effects of bullying cover a range of issues. Some students handle the matter well and move on quickly, whereas other students fall into depression.

“It’s a big deal and it can turn into a very big deal.” Trammell said. “Most of it depends on the severity of the bullying.”

To combat this issue as much as possible and promote awareness, MWISD has a number of measures in place.

Starting the school year off strong, MWISD held an assembly where student expectations were addressed, of which bullying was a central point of discussion.

But bullying is not a one time discussion for MWISD.

StayALERT is one of the key programs MWISD has in place year-round to aid in the fight against bullying. In short, StayALERT is a confidential safety reporting service that can be reached via phone, online or email.

However, this program is not MWISD biggest defense against bullying.

According to Trammell, the openness and relationships faculty try to establish with students is the biggest force against bullying in MWISD.

“The biggest thing [is] we just encourage them to come in and talk to us, and let us know what’s going on,” Trammell said. “That’s probably our number one way [bullying] is reported.

“Most of the time, by the time it goes through the StayALERT program, we’ve already heard about it.”

These methods may prove beneficial in protecting students from being bullied, but MWISD also has in place ways of deterring students from bullying.

According to MWISD’s Bullying, Harassment, or Intimidation Reporting Form, bullying is a serious offense.

“Bullying, harassment, and intimidation are serious offenses and will not be tolerated in our school,” the form said. “In fact, Policy FFI and Policy FFH prohibit such activities.”

Students who instigate bullying can face repercussions as small as an office referral or as big as being sent to MWISD’s Discipline Alternative Education Program. In some instances, even the law can get involved.

Another key response MWISD has developed to ensure a safe environment for all students is to displace students’ schedules in instances where bullying may be an issue.

“We sit down and draw the kids schedules out, and then we try to give them a schedule change,” Trammell said. “That way they never have to cross paths in the hallways. We try to get it to where they are never in the same spot at the same time, including lunch.”

For any of this to work, bullying must be reported in a timely manner.

“Reports of bullying should be made as soon as possible after the alleged act or knowledge of the alleged act,” the form said. “A failure to promptly report may impair the District’s ability to investigate and address the prohibited act.”

You don’t have to be a student to report bullying. Parents/guardians and close adult relatives are also highly advised to report bullying.

For more information on MWISD and bullying, consult www.mwisd.net. To find out more about StayALERT, visit www.stayalert.info.