By Rod Rose The Lebanon Reporter
---- — Whether it’s done in the schoolyard or by smartphone, bullying will not be tolerated at Western Boone schools.
Definitions of what is — and what is not — bullying, and procedures to investigate and respond to bullying, were adopted by the Western Boone County Community School Corp. board of trustees Monday.
A state law gave public schools until mid-October to provide anti-bullying training to students; Western Boone met that requirement, Tricia Reed, the corporation’s director of curriculum, said Monday.
Every school staff member is required to report any incident if they believe it is bullying, but it is not up to staff to do the investigation — that’s the responsibility of administrators, Reed said.
“We’ve told our staff they have to report immediately,” she said. “It is not their job to investigate.”
An important piece of that training is clarifying what is and what is not bullying, she said.
A heightened state of alertness to bullying is required by the state law, Western Boone Jr.-Sr. High School Principal Rob Ramey said.
Bullying, in the definition adopted by the school board Monday, is defined “overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications or images transmitted in any manner (including digitally or electronically); physical acts committed; aggression; 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 targeted student.”
The new policy, based on state standards is longer, and the definition of bullying is much broader, Western Boone Superintendent Dr. Judi Hendrix said.
“It’s also what bullying isn’t,” Hendrix said.
Bullying is broken into four categories:
• Physical, which can include pushing, hitting, kicking, tripping, spitting, rude hand gestures, or taking or breaking someone’s things;
• Verbal, which includes taunting, name-calling, teasing, inappropriate comments, or threats of injury;
• Social/relational, such as starting rumors, or other actions that would cause someone to be without friends, and
• Electronic/written communication through cyber-bullying, done through the use of computers, cellphones or other electronic devices.
Investigations will determine if actions taken by students meet those definitions.
Schools must annually report to the Indiana Department of Education the number of “true bullying” cases in each of the four categories, Hendrix said.
“Electronic (bullying) is way up,” Ramey said.
Texting has become a preferred method of bullying by social media, Jon Compton, Western Boone Jr.-Sr. High School assistant principal, said. “Facebook is not as popular now,” he said.
Board member Debbie Smith asked if she would be required to report somethingif she opens her Facebook account and finds something she considers bullying.
“If whatever happened on Facebook causes a significant disruption at school, then yes, “ Compton said. He would contact both sets of parents and tell them, “This is what was on Facebook.”
“It always has to lead to an investigation,” Ramey said. “If it led to a disruption at school, then there is discipline.”
Investigations can be time-consuming, Reed said, because not every incident reported will be considered bullying. Some events will be disagreements between students.
However, punishment can result even if an event does not meet the bullying definitions the board adopted this week.
“You will have more bullying reports, but there will be less true bullying, once they go through the reports,” Hendrix said.
Because the definitions of bullying have changed so much, it’s difficult to determine if bullying has increased or decreased, Reed said, in answering a question from board member Mike Biesecker.
Complaints about bullying can be made in a variety of ways. Anyone who thinks a student has been or is being bullied should immediately tell a teacher, counselor or administrator. Any staff member who sees or hears of suspected bullying then will contact a school administrator.
A person reporting an incident may choose to remain anonymous, but staff members who fail to follow the policy will be disciplined, as will persons who make false accusations.
Brandie Oliver, a Butler University professor in the school counseling graduate program, said in a news release earlier this week, Indiana schools “have done a really nice job interpreting the law, making sense of it, and putting policies and curriculum in place.”
Oliver helped the Indiana Department of Education develop training and resources for schools to implement the anti-bullying education law.
“We’ve been really impressed with the level of commitment that schools are taking with this initiative,” Oliver said.
Butler’s College of Education will hold a workshop, “Bullying Basics and Beyond: Tools to Respond to the Antibullying Legalization Act,” from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 18. More information is available at www.butler.edu/coe/teach-butler/teach-butler-conference-workshops/teach-butler-workshop-descriptions/.