Bullying is a serious problem in schools nationwide, and Florida is no exception. Our Panama City personal injury attorney explains the most common types of bullying that occur in Florida schools, why bullying is so underreported, and how parents and schools can help.
Bullying in Florida Schools
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 31% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 attending school in the United States say they are bullied. However, the reality may be far more complicated. Like most incidences of abuse that involve imbalances of power, victims of bullying are often more likely to stay silent about an incident than to report.
The numbers are further complicated in Florida due to how our state’s laws on bullying are worded. Florida public schools report a bullying rate of only 0.1%. However, experts believe that Florida’s low numbers have more to do with the way in which the law classifies bullying than actual occurrences of it.
The definition that is used in the law and by the Florida Department of Education to determine what does and does not count as bullying says it must involve “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress” on someone.
Therefore, schools look for the following three criteria, sometimes known as “RIP,” before they consider an act “bullying”:
- Has the harassment been repeated over time?
- Was there an intent to cause harm or distress?
- Is an imbalance of power (or a perceived imbalance of power) involved?
Words like “chronically” and “repeated” prevent a lot of people from being able to report one-time incidences that can be very hurtful and may be keeping Florida’s school bullying numbers far lower than they actually are.
Common Types of Bullying
Bullying can come in many forms both physical and psychological. Though children who stand out, have disabilities, or don’t have many friends tend to be the main targets of bullying, the truth is that it can happen to anyone at any time and at any age.
The most common types of bullying as described by Florida law tend to involve:
- Destruction of property
- Harassment based on sex, religion, race, or disability
- Physical violence
- Public or private humiliation
- Social exclusion
In Florida, the bullying or harassment of any student of a public K-12 educational institution is prohibited by law. However, due to the fact that such incidences must be repeated to be taken seriously, this can be hard to enforce.
What Can Schools Do About Bullying?
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for teachers and administrative staff to stop bullying in schools. Since a lot of students don’t report it, adults are often unaware that bullying is even happening in the first place. When they do find out, it can be hard to distinguish whether an incident is a systemic act of bullying or a relatively harmless one-time squabble.
Teachers can have a good influence on their students by being transparent about the realities of bullying and offering support to those who have been victimized. Though it may sound counterproductive, it is important to offer support to both the victim and the aggressor when an act of bullying occurs. Otherwise, if the bully’s aggressive behavior is not addressed and allowed to persist, it can become a lifestyle.
If you are a parent or teacher who catches an incident of bullying, separate the children and gather the facts about what happened as well as what may have led to the situation. Allow everyone involved to understand why the situation occurred and offer them guidance and alternatives so they can prevent it from happening again. And if a child comes to you to report an act that made them feel as though they were being bullied, don’t brush it off. Believe them and offer what support you can.
If know someone who has been bullied and suffered physical or psychological harm, we may be able to help. Contact our Panama City personal injury attorney for a free case evaluation. You can also report bullying to the Florida Department of Education according to the guidelines listed here.