Victims want harsher bullying policies

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Mar 13, 2013
Photo by: Jordyn Gardner GETTING TOUGH — Kristian Buckner, a senior at Pisgah High School, wants to put a stop to bullying.

Bullying is an ongoing problem nationwide, and Haywood County is no exception.

Bullying can take many forms and happens at most grade levels, but the result is always the same. Children who are bullied are at high risk for poor academic performance, mental disorders, substance abuse and suicide.

According to Stopbullying.org, a small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures.

“In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied,” according to the advocacy website.

Some parents and students in Haywood don’t feel like the schools’ policies against bullying are strict enough, including Pisgah student Kristian Buckner, mother of three Joy Stepp and Central Haywood senior Charles Flesch, who have recently shared how they’ve been affected by bullying.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County Schools, said the school system didn’t have a specific policy against bullying because everything that can be considered bullying is included in the school’s student conduct policy.

Nolte said the school system did several things to teach students about good behavior whether it’s through DARE classes or discussions in health class about good character traits and behavior.

“But there’s a big gap between knowledge and behavior,” he said. “… We’ll always have bullies — there’s adult bullies — the way to address it is for people not to accept it.”

The bullied

Stepp said her ninth-grader, who is autistic, is constantly bullied at school.

“The boys are calling him gay and queer and when he goes to his teacher, nobody will do anything,” she said.

Her youngest son, who is in sixth grade, got hit by another child on the school bus. In retaliation, her son called the child a name and received one day of in-school suspension. She said the child who hit her son was not punished.

“Something needs to be done,” Stepp said. “It’s not just my kids that this is happening to.”

Buckner recently shared a blog on The Mountaineer’s website about the ongoing bullying issues her friends have experienced. She, too, has been a victim of bullying, but she hasn’t let it break her.

“But recently the problem with bullying has arisen more and more among my peers,” she said. “It wasn't just when we were younger that we were bullied. Kids become more harsh, finding the weakest point in a character and stabbing it with a dull knife.”

Flesch was a victim of bullying his freshman year at Pisgah.

“I went to the guidance office plenty of times and nothing was done about it,” he said. “One staff member told me ‘this is the Bible belt and people are going to judge you.’ That’s not comforting – it kind of broke me a little bit.”

Flesch said he couldn’t even concentrate in class because of people talking about him and his grades suffered because of the constant bullying. He described one incident in which a student in auto mechanics class threw a bolt at his head.

“I try not to worry about it — some people can’t handle it, but I have a better head on my shoulders and I’ve never wanted to hurt myself,” he said. “I’ve told myself ‘you are better than them’ and will be better in life.”

Flesch said he was a little nervous about transferring to Central, but said bullying hasn’t been an issue there. He said the staff and principal were easy to talk to and the 100 students were more like a big family.

Speaking up

Nolte said the school system couldn’t legally tell the parent of a victim what punishment was given to the other child involved and vice versa. He said too often he receives calls from parents claiming their child has been bullied for some time. He pointed out it was important for students and parents to come forth with bullying information as soon as it happens so the school can take action.

“I’m sure the fear (of retaliation) is real, but schools can only act when someone tells them there’s a problem,” Nolte said. “If we don’t have the information, we can’t issue discipline outside of policy.”

He urges students to alert the administration to issues as soon as they happen so faculty can act accordingly. Stopbullying.org said it is important for adults to step in immediately if they witness bullying because it “sends the message that it is not acceptable.”

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying is harder for schools to monitor because it often happens outside of school. Nolte said if cyber bullying occurs in conjunction with the school day — the school can treat it as if it happened in the school hallway. However, the school has less power if it occurs outside of school hours.

“What we typically do is if we see that and it looks like a criminal violation, we give it to law enforcement but if not, our arms, figuratively, don’t reach that far,” he said.

If someone is being bullied through email or social media websites like Facebook or Twitter, Stopbulling.org says not to respond, keep evidence of the harassing messages and block the person immediately.

Cyber bullying should be reported to law enforcement if it involves criminal activity, including threats of violence, child pornography or sending sexually explicit messages or photos, taking a photo or video of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy, stalking and hate crimes.

According to North Carolina state law, a school employee, student or volunteer who has witnessed or has reliable information that someone has been subject to any act of bullying shall report the incident to the appropriate school official.

Any person who violates the state’s cyber-bullying law this section shall be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor if the defendant is 18 or charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor if the defendant is under 18.

Getting tough on bullying

Flesch said the school system needed to be stricter on bullying by having harsher policies in place.

“There should be zero tolerance. We have a zero tolerance dress code, why not a zero tolerance bullying policy?” he said. “It’s taking away from other kids’ learning and education.”

Haywood County high-school student Dan Lewis suggested starting an “Anti-bullying League,” asking students to sign a petition saying they won’t bully.

Buckner said since many of the students who bully are athletes, “it would be a good idea if there was a program that would stop it at the source.”

If students continue bullying after signing the petition, then there could be serious consequences such as not being able to play in a game or losing their spot on the team.

“We can tell kids not to bully all we want but unless we take serious actions and apply serious consequences for the bullies, it won't stop,” Buckner said.

Nolte said the punishment for bullying could range from detention to suspension depending on the offense. Someone “constantly pestering” someone would have a lighter punishment than if a student hits another student, he said.

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