It might be a threat on a social media website.
The act of bullying has many faces.
But what is it really?
Local leaders assert that bullying, by definition, is often misunderstood.
It is more than teasing and it is identified based on a very specific criteria.
“(We) define bullying as behavior that is repeated, intentional and power driven,” said Peter Coombe, Director of Communication for Calhoun City Schools.
“That’s what I really educate our teachers on. Those are the key components to look for.”
The state defines bullying much the same way, categorizing it as behavior that reflects a “willful attempt or threat” to harm someone, an “intentional display of force” and any other act that could be deemed threatening.
A random instance of teasing does not apply, but that does not mean schools ignore any unwanted pestering, regardless of definition.
“If someone comes up to a child and says ‘You’re an idiot’… of course that is something we address with progressive discipline,” Coombe said. “… that was inappropriate behavior, but it would not be considered bullying.”
Some times the distinction between what is simply inappropriate and what is bullying is subjective.
“Often, if you’re the one receiving (teasing) then it’s bullying,” said Gordon County Superintendent Bill McCown. “If you’re the one delivering the barb, then maybe it’s teasing. But the way our progressive discipline works here is students only get so many tries before they’re going to get a severe penalty, anyway.”
The state requires schools to take a three-strikes approach in handling discipline for bullying incidences.
If someone is guilty of three bullying offenses in a school year, the state requires them to be placed in an alternative school following a tribunal hearing.
The schools do, however, have some degree of discretion on how to handle bullying incidents, especially if they are truly egregious acts like physical assaults.
“That discretion is left up to the principle, as to how to address that on a case by case basis,” said Jeff Clance, Director of Student Services for Gordon County Schools.
“If it is very serious the first time they can certainly take that punitive action early on rather than waiting for the third time as the statute mandates.”
One of the problems school leaders face in identifying bullying has to do with non-reporting.
“A lot of times (those being bullied) are scared to report it,” Coombe said. “All offenses should be reported and addressed.”
Teachers are considered “mandated reporters” and are required to report bullying, just as they would a situation of suspected abuse outside the school walls, Coombe said.
“It’s part of their training,” Coombe said. “Every counselor goes over the law with the staff and employees.”
There are sometimes unique instances of bullying that do not involve student-to-student interaction.
Sometimes, a teacher can bully another teacher or a student can bully a teacher and visa versa.
“We provide information through human resources to make sure every employee is treated fairly and with respect,” Coombe said.
“We take all accusations seriously. A teacher can be a bully and it can fall into that umbrella of bullying.”
Abusive teachers can have their licenses revoked or even face criminal charges, depending on the severity of the issue, Coombe said.
One of the best ways to prevent bullying is to empower the bystander, according to Coombe.
“If you can educate the bystander, you can stop bullying,” he said.
“Bullies are usually doing things for attention or to assert power and there is usually a chance for someone to object.”
Teaching students to protect their classmates from bullies and to report instances of abuse to administrators is the most direct way to take a stand, Coombe said.
For more information on how Georgia is combating bullying, visit www.doe.k12.ga.us.