What should you do if your child is be­ing bul­lied or is a bully?

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 LIFE + COMICS & PUZZLES - Ni­cole Vil­lal­pando Rais­ing Austin

In June, we wrote a story

about a 12-year-old AfricanAmer­i­can girl in Ge­orge­town who had been called an ape, re­ferred to as a slave and had afel­lows tu­dent make a whip­ping ges­ture to­ward her. The

school re­port re­ferred to the in­ci­dent as bul­ly­ing, but her fam­ily said none of the stu­dents in­volved had been dis­ci­plined. It made us won­der, when

bul­ly­ing hap­pens, what are the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the stu­dent be­ing bul­lied and their par­ent, the stu­dent who has been ac­cused of bul­ly­ing and their par­ent, the school ad­min­is­tra­tion and the dis­trict? What ex­actly hap­pens when a re­port is filed?

As we get ready for the new school year, we look at how to file a re­port and what to ex­pect

once you’ve done so, as well as what to do if your child is ac­cused of bul­ly­ing.

What is bul­ly­ing?

Bul­ly­ing is “re­peated un­wanted be­hav­iors or words to­ward a per­son,” says Peter Price, the direc­tor of so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing and mul­ti­tier sys­tems of sup­port at Austin In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict and a for­mer mid­dle school prin­ci­pal. Those be­hav­iors could be phys­i­cal, so­cial or emo­tional. It could be in per­son or done through so­cial me­dia. In fact, this year, the Texas

Leg­is­la­ture passed and Gov. Greg Ab­bott signed David’s Law, named af­ter David Mo­lak, a San An­to­nio high schooler who killed him­self af­ter be­ing

cy­ber­bul­lied. David’s Law, which will go into ef­fect Sept. 1, makes cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, even if it hap­pened away from school grounds, part of the school’s re­spon­si­bil­ity. It al­lows for

anony­mous re­port­ing of in­ci­dents and re­quires schools to no­tify the par­ents of the kid who was bul­lied and the par­ents of the kid who has been ac­cused of bul­ly­ing within three days.

David’s Law also al­lows an in­junc­tion against a

so­cial me­dia ac­count as well as a re­strain­ing or­der against the bully. Bully

ing can be­come a Class A mis­de­meanor in­stead of a Class B mis­de­meanor when it is done with the in­tent that the child com­mit sui­cide or harm hi­mor her­self or if a pre­vi­ous re­strain­ing or­der or in­junc­tion has been vi­o­lated.

This law is im­por­tant be­cause of what teach­ers

and school ad­min­is­tra­tors ares ee­ing in their schools. “What has changed is the dif­fer­ences in what it looks like be­cause of tech­nol­ogy,” says Ken­isha Coburn, prin­ci­pal at Keal­ing Mid­dle School. “There are a lot of ver­bal things and pic­tures that hap­pen off cam­pus when par­ents are sleep­ing … also things that used to be a one-time con­flict have turned into a pat­tern. They keep com

ing up.” Com­ments and pho­tos get shared again and

again, and they don’t go away, she says.

What hap­pens if your child has been bul­lied?

“What I tell stu­dents and par­ents is you should ex­pect­to­be­tre a ted­with re­spect,” Coburn sa ys.“If you feel un­com­fort­able or tell some­one to stop and they don’t, re­port it.”

Tell a staff mem­ber at the school. Each school is dif­fer­ent as far as who pri­mar­ily in­ves­ti­gates in­ci­dents, but all teach­ers ands chool ad­min­is­tra­tors re­ceive train­ing on what to do when it gets re­ported to them. Price sug­gests that if it’s hap­pen­ing in a class­room, go to that teacher, but if it’s hap­pen­ing in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions or out­side of the class­room, it would make sense to go to an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal or a coun­selor.

“It should be dealt with, ev­ery one of those times, whether it’s one time or 20 times,” Price says.

Some­times stu­dents don’t want to re­port it be­cause they don’t want to be seen goi ng­in­tothe of­fice to re­port it. Coburn says last year es­pe­cially she no­ticed par­ents telling her that their child didn’t want them to re­port what was hap­pen­ing.

Many schools now have an on­line form stu­dents can fill out. They also can email an ad­min­is­tra­tor.

It’s not just the stu­dent it’s hap­pen­ing to who should re­port it. “There’s no such thing as an in­no­cent by­stander,” Coburn says. “If you’re watch­ing this kind of be­hav­ior, you’re part of the prob­lem.” Coburn wants as much de­tail as pos­si­ble. What hap­pened? Where did it hap­pen? Who wit­nessed it or was made aware of it later? The gen­eral rule, Coburn says, is that once it’s re­ported, it should be ac­knowl­edged within 48 hours.

What should you do if you learn your child

has been bul­lied?

Be calm. Emo­tions are run­ning h igh.Ifyou’re

re­ally good friends with the ac­cused bully’s par

ents, you might want to reach out to them to have them talk to their child, but if you don’t re­ally know the par­ents or you only slightly know them, do not make con­tact. Let the school han­dle it. Do not talk to the bully. That’s not your job as the pare nt.Re­sist. Make sure your child

has filed a re­port and ad­vise your child against re­tal­i­a­tion. Do en­cour­age your child to con­tinue to file re­ports each time there is a new in­ci­dent.

You also want to talk to your child about not be­com­ing a bully to­ward the bully. “Some­times it’s a one-way street,” Price says. “Typ­i­cally, it’s a twoway street.”

Coburn has seen one stu­dent come to her in March to re­port an­other stu­dent as the bully; then, by May, the “bully” is com­ing to her to re­port the other stu­dent.

What­shouldy­oudoif you learn your child is the bully?

Try not to panic. It doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean

your child is go­ing to be kicked out of school or a have a po­lice record. Typ­i­cally, your child will meet

with a coun­selor or prin­ci­pal or as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal to get his or her ver­sion of the in­ci­dent.

Somet imesstaff will meet with both stu­dents to do a me­di­a­tion. It could just be a mis­un­der­stand­ing in which kids who have been friends for years now we nt­too­far and didn’t re­al­ize it. The staff mem­ber will talk to them about mak­ing bet­ter choices and un­der­stand­ing the feel­ings that led to the bul­ly­ing.

If it con­tin­ues, it might mean your child will have a “stay away” agree­ment — a for­mal doc­u­ment that tells them not to in­ter­act with the other stu­dent. Some­times, stu­dents will get a sched­ule change or teacher change to help

that, but usu­ally this isn’t done be­cause stu­dents will see one an­other in the hall­ways, at lunch or re­cess, or be­fore or af­ter

school. In­stead schools want stu­dents to fig­ure out how to co­ex­ist with­out in­ter­act­ing.

You get to help with this by re­in­forc­ing the rules and not en­cour­ag­ing fur­ther in­ci­dents.

In se­vere cases, your stu­dent might be given a sus­pen­sion or sent to an al­ter­na­tive school for a time. Some­times the school po­lice are brought in as well when it’s clear a law has been bro­ken or could soon be bro­ken. Things that get au­to­mat­i­cally re­ported are phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion that causes se­ri­ous harm, and sex­ting. Just be­cause the school po­lice get in­volved doesn’t mean an ar­rest will fol­low, but it could.

Schools are chang­ing howtheytreatab­ully. Rather than just look­ing at pun­ish­ment, they are try

ing to re­store peace. “One thing our dis­trict is do­ing that’s pos­i­tive,” says Price, “is work­ing to adopt more restora­tive prac­tices. We help stu­dents see the harm they cre­ated and learn how to re­store peace. Most kids don’t come to school with in­tent to cause trou­ble.”

Stu­dents in schools that feed into Akins High School are en­gaged in a

pilot pro­gram that uses restora­tive rather than puni­tive prac­tices.

If stu­dents are deal­ing with a trauma or an­other chal­lenge, it might be man­i­fest­ing it­self as bul­ly­ing, Price says. Rather

than la­bel­ing them as “bad” stu­dents, “we’re help­ing th­ese chal­lenged stu­dents re­solve their in­ter­nal is­sues.”

Coburn says she of­ten will look at what com­mu­nity re­sources might be avail­able to help that stu­dent.

What hap­pens if your

child con­tin­ues to be bul­lied?

You need to con­tinue to re­port it to your child’s school ad­min­is­tra­tion. If it con­tin­ues to hap­pen and y oud on’t feel heard or t hatanythi ng has been done, take it to the school dis­trict by call­ing the level ad­min­is­tra­tor (the per­son in charge of the el­e­men­tary schools or the mid­dle schools or the high schools). That per­son will work with your school’s prin­ci­pal and as­sis­tant

prin­ci­pal to find a bet­ter so­lu­tion.

Youdo­havethe op­tion to re­quest a trans­fer to an­other school. It’s rare t hat­par ents opt for this, but they can. Just know t hatyou will be re­quired to get your child to that new school. “It feels like we’re run­ning away from the prob­lem rather than re­solv­ing it,” Price said.

Price and Coburn do

en­cour­age par­ents and stu- dents to ac­tu­ally read and keep the code of con­duct that the child gets that first week of school. Re­fer to it to un­der­stand your rights

on bul­ly­ing a nd any other school is­sue.


In2012,then-Univer­si­ty­ofT exas foot­ball player Alex Okafor signs

a “No Placef or H ate”ba n nerat Wieland El­e­men­tary in Pflugerville shortly be­fore an anti-bul­ly­ing pro­gram there. Okafor is a Pflugerville High School alum­nus.


Nora Brock, from left, Chris­tian Gal­van, Isabel So­ri­ano and Sadie Ship­man cel­e­brate play­ing the drums dur­ing the open­ing per­for­mance by the Drum Cafe at the Anti-Defama­tion League No Place for Hate youth sum­mit held at the Austin Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in 2015.


Keal­ing Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal Ken­isha Coburn.

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