Each year, schools across the country and in Highland County participate in bullying prevention activities during the month of October.
According to the website www.notinourtown.com, schools throughout the U.S. have experienced an increase in bullying and acts of hate. While local school leaders say there hasn’t been a noticeable increase here, they remain vigilant.
Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said his district has several activities planned for the month of October to increase student awareness of bullying.
“We decided this school year to put a positive spin on ‘anti-bullying’ month and do a kindness initiative,” he said. “We’re also doing activities for Red Ribbon Week, which is a drug prevention and education program later this month.”
Activities planned in Hillsboro middle and high school include a Kindness Logo Contest. The winning student will get a gift card and a T-shirt with the logo they designed.
Kindness Rocks is a program in the middle school where students create a kindness rock for display outside the school. Stand for the Silence is a pledge card signed by students promising respect and dignity for others, and a pair of signs are being made for display in the middle and high school hallways called the “Nice Kid Signs.”
At McClain High School, Principal Jason Potts said being on the lookout for bullying isn’t limited to the month of October.
“We don’t do anything specific in the month of October,” he said. “We do programs all year long.”
Potts told the Times-Gazette that McClain has a curriculum in place that is used throughout the school year to addresses the social and emotional needs of the student, in addition to team building and social interaction.
He and other leaders in Highland County’s school districts are finding the bullying problem more and more in cyberspace.
“You don’t get that much face-to-face bullying anymore thanks to social media,” he said. “Bullies today hide behind keyboards and computer screens, and unfortunately, kids don’t want to come forth with that information and more often than not, they internalize it and try to deal with it themselves.”
The social media aspect is proving to be extremely frustrating for school administrators, according to Potts.
“We encourage any student who is being bullied, in person or online, to speak with someone they trust and respect at school,” Potts said. “Counselors are always available, but they can seek out a favorite teacher if that makes them feel more comfortable.”
At that point, the teacher brings it to the attention of counselors and administrators, he said.
All of the school districts indicated they have a zero-tolerance attitude toward bullying.
Fairfield Local Schools Interim Superintendent Tim Dettwiller said his district has in place a pair of year-long programs to deal with the bullying problem.
“One of them is what we call ‘The Renaissance Club’ for grades nine through 12,” he said. “And ‘The Ivy League’ is designed for our 10th graders.”
Dettwiller said both of those programs focus on student behavior and recognizing the signs of bullying and how to deal with it. Another program that is coming to Fairfield elementary is called “PAX.”
“The PAX program came from Wright State and it’s a student behavior program,” he said. “It’s designed for students, school staff and parents, and we’ll be rolling it out later this year.”
Highland County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Molly Bolek said her office has given many presentations over the years to area schools addressing the problem of bullying, and echoed what Potts had to say about today’s trend of cyberbullying.
“Research has shown that 81 percent of teens believe that bullying on line is easier to get away with,” she said, “so our presentations focus on the bullying that happens both online and in person.”
Bolek said the Victim Witness Assistance program, which is part of the prosecutor’s office, is tasked with maintaining contact with victims of crime and providing support for them throughout the criminal prosecution process. The office also helps connect the victim with resources such as counseling.
Bolek said young people today are heavily involved in social media, with apps like Snapchat and Instagram being the most common platforms for bullying. However, when the problem escalates into physical bullying and a student feels threatened, her office gets involved in a more proactive manner if law enforcement completes an investigation.
“Depending on the situation, we have filed criminal charges against juveniles,” she said. “There is no specific crime labeled ‘bullying,’ but it can manifest itself into being charged with disorderly conduct, menacing, menacing by stalking, and assault.”
If a person is convicted, the consequences can range from community service — like picking up trash on a Saturday morning — to having a no-contact order imposed, facing detention or being put on probation.
And contrary to popular belief, Bolek said any interaction with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office may not disappear once a person turns 18 years of age.
“They are ‘adjudicated delinquent’ for their acts,” she said. “That’s the correct legal term used for juvenile offenders, and sometimes that record doesn’t always go away when they turn 18. As far as getting a record expunged, there is a process for that and it’s not automatic, so I want to emphasize to kids and adults alike that just because they turned 18 doesn’t automatically mean it will go off their record.”
In fact, she said, those run-ins with the judicial system could come back to haunt them in later life when an employer, military recruiter, trade school or college signs a release of information to check with the juvenile court, and sees what’s recorded there.
“Making the decision to not participate in bullying will go a long way to making sure a young person doesn’t go down a path that will negatively change not only their life, but those around them,” she said.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.