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Bullying Prevention Starts with You

Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month? As the new school year is getting underway, it’s a time to face bullying head-on, to recognize this damaging behavior, and to jump start anti-bullying efforts in our schools and communities.

What is bullying?

Bullying is behavior that is intentionally hurtful. It involves some kind of power imbalance with the aggressor wielding some kind of power over the target. Bullying behavior is also repeated — or likely to be repeated. And, bottom line, it is hurtful or harmful to the target in some way — physically, psychologically, emotionally, or educationally. Bullying has been recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an adverse childhood experience (ACE).

Bullying is a community event and does not happen in isolation. It involves at least two people, but often, many others are also involved. The players include the aggressor (or perpetrator), the target (recipient of bullying), and often bystanders (witnesses to behavior). Adults have a responsibility to recognize bullying behaviors and intervene appropriately.

Are harassment, intimidation, and bullying the same thing?

These three behaviors are similar, often overlapping, and one may lead into another. We often use the terms interchangeably in conversation, but they are different.

  • Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior by another youth or group of youths that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance. This behavior is repeated or highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including psychological, social, or educational harm.
  • Intimidation is behavior done to make fearful or to put into fear. It generally involves an implied or overt threat of violence.
  • Harassment is negative, aggressive behavior which intentionally causes physical injury, physical damage to or destruction of the property, or which threatens a person or group in reasonable fear of harm to person or property.
    o Discriminatory Harassment relates to unfair or unequal treatment because one or more individuals is part of a known protected class, a group of people protected from discrimination and harassment under federal and state laws.
    o Sexual Harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which denies or limits a student’s ability to participate in and/or benefit from a school’s program or activity.

What laws does Washington have regarding bullying in schools?

State law (RCW 28A.600.477) prohibits harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) in Washington’s schools, and requires all school districts to have policies in place to prevent and respond to instances of HIB. All school districts must have an HIC Compliance Officer identified to oversee implementation of the law and respond to complaints regarding HIB, among other responsibilities.

What rights do students have?

Students have the right to feel safe and secure at school. Washington’s schools work diligently to provide learning environments where everyone is treated with respect and where no one is physically or emotionally harmed.

Who handles bullying incidents at school?

Ideally, allegations of bullying are handled at the school level. Sometimes, they rise to a level where the district needs to also step in. As mentioned above, each school district in Washington has an HIB Compliance Officer serving as the district’s primary contact for issues around HIB/bullying. A list of HIB Compliance Officers is available on the OSPI website.

What about cyberbullying?

It’s important to make clear that cyberbullying is bullying, and in the 21st century, the distinction between cyberbullying and “real-world” bullying often disappears. Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses electronic devices to initiate repeated negative behavior toward another person. Examples of cyberbullying include using the internet or texting to engage in name-calling, spreading rumors, gossiping, and making threats.

Our young people live and interact in the digital world, and we have a responsibility to teach them how to be safe and productive digital citizens. Schools are permitted to discipline students who engage in cyberbullying, and if the learning environment is impacted for a student who has been a target of cyberbullying, the school is required to take action.

How can educators participate in National Bullying Prevention Month?

There are many ways educators can participate, not just during October, but year-round.

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The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

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Led by Supt. Chris Reykdal, OSPI is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state.