Bullying impacts students, schools and communities

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Bullying doesn't just impact schools, but communities, as well.

This is the attitude that school officials adopt when it comes to combating the issue on school campuses.

"It is not so much (impacting) schools, but communities," said Barbara Turner, coordinator for student support services for the Dougherty County School System. "At the schools, the community is being brought in.

"So it's a ripple effect."

It impacts the school environment, and the student body as a whole, in that victims are sitting in the classrooms in fear and they are not well physically because of the torture -- whether physical or mental -- they endure.

And it's difficult for the victims' peers to know how to respond.

"We are talking about a life-altering event that prevents them (children) from being what they set out to be," Turner said. "Children by nature just want to be loved. (The bullying victims) have usually not done anything wrong; it's the other person wanting power, and targeting their weaknesses."

Once the problem gets to that point, Turner has found that there is often a shadow hanging over a bullying victim.

"They are caught in the middle of telling and dealing with an angry bully (or not telling)," she said.

As it's been said in other forums, there is only one effective method to "get out from under the bulls eye."

"You need to tell," Turner said. "In Dougherty County, we have a peer support program, or you can tell an adult.

"Our hands are tied unless we know what's going on."

On May 27, 2010, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an anti-bullying law that expanded the legal definition of bullying that had been set in legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1999 and mandated that each local board of education have a bullying prevention policy in place by Aug. 1.

Bullying is defined in the law as "an act which occurs on school property, on school vehicles, at designated school bus stops, or at school related functions or activities, or by use of data of software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, computer network, or other electronic technology of a local school system" that includes a willful attempt or threat to inflict injury or an intentional written, verbal or physical act which a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass or intimidate.

The Georgia Department of Education developed a model policy regarding bullying, which was adopted by the Dougherty County School System.

This policy outlines the definition of bullying as it is written in the 2010 law, and also goes into the reporting procedures. Once an incident has been reported, officials investigate the incident, notify the parents, carry out the necessary disciplinary action and follow-up on both accuser and victim.

After the report is made, there are a number of resources that kick into gear. At DCSS, there are counselors -- for the victim as well as the bully -- judges and representatives of the school system's police force, among others, that get involved.

"There are resources in the county that work with us in any way possible," Turner said. "We would advise that parents let someone know. If we know, we can respond immediately.

"(Those resources) work with us to get to the core of what is going on."

The consequences for bullying, as outlined in the policy, can include assignment to an alternative school for students in grades 6-12 who have been accused three times during a school year. Disciplinary action after the first incident can include loss of a privilege, suspension, reassignment of seats or classrooms, detention or expulsion through appropriate due process.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying," Turner said. "It's a community problem, and it will take the community to solve it. We cannot say it doesn't exist here. We have to address it heads-on."

Within the Dougherty County School System, there are anonymous boxes on school campuses for which students can report instances of bullying. In addition to that, the state Department of Education has a school safety hotline for which cases can be reported.

That toll-free number is (877) 729-7867.

Since bullying has gotten more media attention, there have been more people taking advantage of these resources.

"I'm finding, as years go by, we are getting more reports," Turner said.

The issue has also been discussed in groups within the school system via classroom discussions, through which students can get answers on how to approach the problem.

In Turner's experience, bullying does not generally lead to significant public safety issues within the schools themselves.

"I've not seen large crimes (on school campuses), but any crime that impacts a child is large enough," she said.

"There not (generally) brawls on campuses related to bullying."

Based on numbers released by the National Center for Education Statistics in May, children ages 12-18 who reported bullying during the 2006-07 academic year also reported unfavorable school conditions such as guns on school campuses, gangs as well as drugs and alcohol activity on school grounds.

Whether being bullied or cyber-bullied, bullying victims reported more of these cases than those not bullied. Overall, 23.2 percent reported gangs, 1.8 percent saw a student with a gun, 32.6 reported the presence of drugs and 18.1 percent reported the presence of alcohol.