Posted Date: 09/19/2023
Most people have heard or used the metaphorical phrase, ‘elephant in the room’. This phrase is used to represent a topic or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about, or even perhaps really develop an understanding of. Today, I would like to address the metaphorical elephant as the subject of ‘bullying’. This is a subject matter that should be and must be addressed at school and in the home. In order to effectively have conversations with our children, it is imperative that we all understand what bullying actually is and is not. Both are equally important to comprehend and yes, can be controversial when emotions are tense, and one is going through a difficult time.
Students today face unique challenges, navigating life that is enriched, yet complicated by technology and social media. While my focus on this topic will lean toward student behaviors, let us not forget that adults face the same challenges. Therefore, it is imperative that we not only teach our children but also model appropriate and expected behavior.
As students face increased challenges and learn appropriate behaviors, our schools are also faced with the work and challenge of addressing such problems. State lawmakers have responded to the increased trend of inappropriate behaviors through online culture that may be classified as cyberbullying. As I attempt to discuss what bullying is and is not, it is imperative to know that inappropriate behaviors are addressed through the Student Code of Conduct. Pending the outcome of any report of bullying, students may face consequences that include verbal warnings, reprimands, separation from the target, suspension (ISS or OSS), an assignment to DAEP, or even expulsion. Investigations of bullying can be quite complicated, and many times, result in findings where both parties are mutually engaged to some extent. Therefore, it is important that we all spend time teaching our children how to respond when targeted offensively by another person.
Let’s go ahead and tackle that ‘elephant’ by starting with, ‘What is not bullying?’. It is important for parents, teachers, and students to understand this, as many times, a single act or behavior is out of proportion, but it is not considered bullying. These types of behaviors are certainly of concern and need addressing, but we must separate them from the legal definitions established by state law. Here are just a few reported issues that we face. Keep in mind that reports of bullying happen from Pre-K through 12th grade.
Some of the issues discussed above are going to happen and should be addressed. Our goal for students to collaborate and get along should be taught as everyone should be respected and be nice. Please understand that discussing what is not bullying is certainly not a means to ignore behaviors. However, acts of real bullying carry significantly different implications.
So, what is bullying? According to the Texas Education Code (with updates regarding cyberbullying from Senate Bill 179), bullying has the following definition:
Bullying now includes a single significant act or pattern of acts by one or more students against another student that exploits an imbalance of power and involves engaging in expression (written, verbal, or electronic) or physical conduct that:
The law also makes clear the term ‘bullying’ includes cyberbullying, and explicitly defines the term ‘cyberbullying’ as any bullying done through the use of any electronic communication device, which includes cellular or other type of telephones, computers, cameras, electronic mail, instant or text messaging, social media applications, websites, or any other internet-based communication tool.
When schools investigate whether an alleged incident is considered bullying, there are key elements that must be found factual. Once again, the act may still be punishable even if not found to be bullying by definition. The law does not spell out every possible situation that may arise, so districts must make decisions on the subjective language used in the definition. Terms like ‘significant act’, ‘exploiting an imbalance of power’, ‘educational environment’, ‘substantial disruption’, ‘orderly operation’, ‘reasonable fear’, etc. can be quite controversial. Separating a parent’s feelings from their child’s feelings also causes some complications in making decisions.
Bullying is prohibited by the district’s Code of Conduct; therefore, a school can take disciplinary action against the student who engaged in bullying. Appropriate discipline may include verbal warnings, reprimands, stay-away agreements, suspension, or other sanctions consistent with the Code of Conduct. Districts may place in DAEP or even expel a student for engaging in bullying that encourages a student to commit or attempt to commit suicide; inciting violence against a student through group bullying; or releasing or threatening to release intimate visual material of a minor or an adult student without the student’s consent. (TASB Legal Services)
Schools should have no tolerance for bullying. However, when parents, students, and school staff are not working together, a false perception of tolerance may occur. So, how do we work together? First, we must communicate and educate. School administrators should be contacted when things first happen to establish a ‘pattern’ of behavior. Many times, the first report includes language like, ‘This has been happening all year, but I thought it would stop.’ School administrators can’t generally address behavior in a retrospective manner. Sometimes, behavior is not reported for fear of personal accountability for one’s own behavior in the situation. Many times, there are simply those ‘he said/she said’ findings with no witnesses that do not substantiate a fact pattern. Lastly, the lack of credibility due to false allegations and statements within a report causes much difficulty in making final determinations.
Students, parents, friends, and others should report issues to campus administration. This can be done in multiple ways. The best and most credible approach is to do so directly. This provides the most clear documentation needed. However, some may prefer to remain anonymous in such cases. Hudson ISD uses a ‘see something, say something’ approach for reporting a number of concerns through Anonymous Alerts. Anonymous Alerts is an application that can be found on our district website under the ’student portal’. Regardless of when the report is made through this system, campus administrators and counselors will immediately receive a notification on their phones and email. The middle school and high school campuses also have posters in various locations with a QR code that students may use to make anonymous reports. This is not new to the district. This program has been in effect for a number of years and is used frequently. Lastly, I would also emphasize that every student needs at least one trusted adult they can come to. That individual may also assist with the reporting of concerns.
Parenting is difficult, and so is teaching. Many times children need to hear and be instructed by others. We understand that there are times when an outside agency might be able to assist us by providing a ‘neutral’ approach to topics. Therefore, we partner with programs as well such as the Family Crisis Center to speak with our students about bullying and other important issues.
Before concluding this topical blog, I want to address one other reporting program that is NOT for reporting bullying and general concerns, but for very serious matters. Under the ‘student portal’ section of our district website, www.hudsonisd.org, you will find ‘iWatch Texas’. This program is monitored by the Texas School Safety Center and the Texas Department of Public Safety. While we have participated in using this program for several years, it has recently been brought to the forefront for any individual to report suspicious activities as they pertain to school shooters and major incidents of violence.
Hopefully, this information is helpful, but certainly not intended to answer all questions, as this topic can be quite difficult, controversial, and emotional. No district is perfect, but Hudson ISD does strive to provide a safe and caring educational culture for all staff and students. Building positive relationships, where trust is at the forefront, should always be the foundation to help our students build upon. Help us all work together and support the next generation.
Go Hornets! #WeAreHudson
Donny Webb, Superintendent of Schools