Local News

School district revising bullying policy

SEBRING - The School Board of Highlands County is updating its bullying and harassment policy to include the term "cyberbullying" along with a detailed definition covering bullying through the use of technology such as communication devices, computers and social media.

The updated bullying policy addressing cyberbullying states that a student can't bully from anywhere in school or at a school event on a phone, computer, fax machine or any of the things that are considered part of the cybernet, said Student Services Coordinator Marcia Davis.

That's the big change because there has been so many instances of cyberbullying across the country on social media such a Facebook, she said.

Davis said she recently met with a parent group to inform them about "all the new changes on bullying."

The updated school board policy states that school staff is not required to monitor any non-school-related activity, function or program.

Thus far this school year, there have been 16 confirmed instances of bullying in the Highlands County School District, she said.

Checking the data, Davis said she was surprised that the elementary school level led with eight bullying cases, while both the middle and high school levels had four cases of bullying.

She believed that the middle school level would have the most instances of bullying because students are at a "crazy" age where they are trying to figure out who they are and trying to fit in and be popular, Davis said.

At the elementary level, sometimes parents will call asking about putting their child in the Florida Virtual School and she learns that the child said they were "bullied" at school, but it was not reported, Davis said.

With little kids it is easy for them to say they were bullied, but being called a name or being pushed one day does not meet the definition of bullying, which is pattern of repeated behavior, she said.

When a parent or student notifies the school about bullying, an investigation is launched to determine if it is bullying, Davis said.

In most instances the school deans will call law enforcement for assistance, especially if it is serious, she said.

Highlands County Sheriff's Office School Resource Officer Supervisor Sgt. Chris Myers said school resource officers will investigate to determine whether or not the alleged bullying involved any criminal law violations.

"If we can establish probable cause that a law violation has occurred as a result of the bullying, we will then investigate that as well," he said.

When they work with school administrators on bullying incidents, school resource officers speak with the offending students to try and stop the situation and advise them that their acts could potentially lead to committing criminal acts if their behavior continues.

Myers couldn't recall any instances of cyberbullying, but said they have investigated complaints about postings on social media sites.

While there were 16 bullying cases in the district, there were no instances of harassment this school year according to district records.

Harassment is defined as "any threatening, insulting or dehumanizing gesture, use of data or written, verbal or physical conduct directed against a student or school employee that places them in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or damage to their property or interferes with their educational performance ...," Davis said.

Bullying's definition includes social exclusion, threat, violence, intimidation, theft and sexual, religious or racial harassment, public humiliation or destruction of property, Davis said.