If 20.8% of school-age children were contracting a given disease, were suffering from any contagious ailment, doctors, parents, and the community would be frantic in their search for a cure. Every day that new children were victims would be one day too many. There is an epidemic that affects over 1 in 5 children, and that plague is bullying (PACER, 2016.) Analysis of 80 studies showed that 35% of 12 – 18-year-olds reported being part of traditional bullying and an additional 15% part of cyberbullying (PACER). With these children being the future of this nation, it is the responsibility of schools and other agencies that are designed to protect children to enact policies not only to stop bullying, but also to set forth guidelines both defining the problem and listing consequences.
Bullying is defined as “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress” (Walton, 2008) and “has the effect of doing any of the following: (1) substantial interference with a student’s education, (2) creation of a threatening environment, (3) substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school” (YYYY, 2008). This problem is not limited to the school day. Victims of bullying also suffer in after-school programs such as athletics. “[A] football player who is intimidating, dominating, and aggressive on the field earns respect from his teammates and coaches” (Steinfeldt, 2012). Granted, we coaches praise athletes who are fighters, who play hard, and who are not afraid to stand their ground in competition. But there is a place when a line must be drawn, where respect for and safety of both teammates and opponents takes precedence over hard-nosed competition. For that reason, the language of high school anti-bullying policies includes after-school activities and hold athletes to the same high standards to which they must adhere during academic classes.
The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast two K – 12 school district bullying policies: Walton County School District in Florida and YYYY School District in Pennsylvania. Both of these are public school districts that officially enacted an anti-bullying policy in 2008 in response to the alarming number of bullying cases being reported across the United States. The comparison between the two policies will be made in terms of language, procedural steps and reporting, and the perceived effectiveness of the two policies in hopes to determine commonalities as well as differences that make each policy effective in its given district.
The first differences within the language of the two policies occurred immediately, in Section 1 or I of the policies (YYYY used Arabic numerals where Walton County used Roman); also immediately noted was the difference in length, with YYYY’s at 3 pages and Walton County’s at 12. Walton’s (2008) policy, entitled “Bullying and Harassment” (only bullying is considered herein), stated that “the District upholds that bullying or harassment…is prohibted.” YYYY’s (2008) policy, entitled “Bullying/Cyberbullying,” stated that “the Board prohibits bullying.” While these concepts are functionally similar, the description of by whom bullying is banned may be based on the size and school composition of the district covered. YYYY is a rural Pennsylvania district comprised of three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school, with a total enrollment of 2079 students (YYYYsd.net, 2017). Walton County spans a substantial portion of the Florida panhandle, and has multiple schools at each level: six elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools, plus three charter schools, two alternative education schools, and a career development school, with a total enrollment of 7200 students (walton.k12.fl.us, 2017). From a practical consideration based on size and district area, it is practical for the Board of YYYY School District to oversee 5 schools, where the District as a whole is required to monitor the 18 buildings that comprise Walton County School demographic differences between the districts themselves.
On the opening page, in fact, in the first section, each policy emphasized the role of a bullying policy in providing a safe place in which students can learn. YYYY desired to create a “safe, positive learning environment (YYYY, 2008) and Walton County to produce an “educational setting that is safe, secure, and free from harassment and bullying of any kind (Walton, 2008). Safety for students registered therein is a primary concern for every district; thus, the language of the policy in terms of safety concerns is similar regardless of the size of the district.
The description of acts classified by Walton County as bullying is provided in Section II. The list is very specific and included examples of occurrences such as social exclusion, threat, stalking, and physical violence, but also included the phrase “but is not limited to” before providing a list of these and other offenses. YYYY did not list acts, but instead described in Section 2 offenses categorized as “an intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or series of acts directed at another student or students, which occurs in a school setting, that is severe, pervasive...” and has the effects described in the opening paragraph. (YYYY, 2008). The value of a specific description is arguable. A specific list allows an administrator to show a student his or her offense on paper and prove that it is indeed bullying. On the other hand, a vaguer, all-encompassing definition allows for case-by-case analysis and determination if an act is bullying or not in a given situation.
A notable difference in the language of the two policies comes from the inclusion of employees in the code for Walton County but not for YYYY. Walton County’s policy reads; “The District upholds that bullying and harassment of any student or school employee is prohibited,” (Walton, 2008) which recognizes not only that educators can bully but can be bullied by peers, superiors, and students as well. Bullying at the teacher/coach level at YYYY is covered in a separate document in the faculty handbook rather than in the same policy as the students; however, descriptions and consequences are similar.
Both districts provided a thorough description of the physical areas encompassed by the bullying policy. While both policies specified school grounds and any activities occurring there, as well as buses owned by the district regardless of location, the remainder of the descriptions differed somewhat. YYYY chose to describe cyberbullying in a separate section, grouping physical locations only here in Section 2, while Walton County included “use of data or computer software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, or computer network of a public K-12 education institution” in Section I, Part B (Walton, 2008). YYYY included district-issued bus stops as part of the included area; in the more rural areas of the district, many students spend an hour each morning traveling to a number of stops in their locale before finally arriving at the high school. A delay at any of those stops leaves the rest of the students on the route waiting for extended times, often in semi-secluded areas, hence, the rationale for including bus stops.
The language differed in to what the educational setting was referred. YYYY simply called all of its buildings collectively “the school,” all locations “school grounds,” and transportation including buses “school vehicles” (YYYY, 2008). Walton County described these areas as well, but referred to all of them in terms of “a public K-12 educational institution” (Walton, 2008). It seems as though this was written to include Walton County students who are at other districts for events such as athletic contests or as guests at dances or performances such as musical theater. Although the intentions behind this phrasing are good, it may in some cases be difficult to thoroughly investigate claims that have occurred within other districts. Likewise, YYYY made no mention of events occurring within other districts, unless those are accepted as covered under the term “school.” Both parties may benefit from clarifying this section of the policy.
Expected behavior is described directly in the policy itself of the Walton County School District in Section III. “The Walton County School District expects students to conduct themselves as appropriate for their levels of development, maturity, and demonstrated capabilities with a proper regard for the rights and welfare of other students and school staff, the educational purpose underlying all school activities, and the care of school facilities and equipment” (Walton, 2008). YYYY provides its bullying policy to all students along with many others, including a description of expected behavior, in a Student Handbook on the first day of school; at the back of the handbook is a sign-off sheet with a place for the student’s signature and a place for a parent’s or guardian’s signature which must be returned to the school promptly, signifying all students are then responsible for knowing and following the policies and expectations detailed within.