TAKING ON THE PROBLEM
Bullying isn’t allowed in North Little Rock schools, says Micheal Stone, student services director for the North Little Rock School District. But it does happen, he says.
Luckily, the district is in a good position to combat the problem.
“We have policy and practices in place to deal with the issue,” he says. “It is our responsibility to our kids to deal with anything that interferes with the learning environment.”
North Little Rock School District policy 4.43 outlines the “No Bullying Allowed” initiative, defining bullying as “the intentional harassment, intimidation, humiliation, ridicule, defamation, or threat or incitement of violence by a student against another student or public school employee,” and it includes bullying through electronic acts committed off campus, particularly through social media.
“Social media has been somewhat of a nightmare for schools,” Stone says. “It can be very remote. And sometimes, it is hard to even find who did it. But if we find that bullying is taking place through social media and it is affecting the school environment, we will deal with it the same way as if it happened on campus.”
Like Nail, Stone says he sees bullying at its most prevalent in middle schools. As a result, the district is taking its greatest stand against the issue in these hallways, he says.
“Kids can sometimes be cruel, especially in middle school, so we try to focus on doing something really big for them there,” he says. “The administrators in those schools have really taken this on.”
The district has created a method for reporting bullying that investigates, documents and remedies reported acts of bullying in the schools, he says.
“We have what you call F1 through F4 forms,” Stone says. “They allow us to track anytime a bullying incident had been reported.”
The forms refer to the level of bullying that occurs. If no instance of bullying is found, an F1 form is completed and filed with the student’s record for documentation in case needed in the future, he says. F2 and F3 forms are completed when an instance of bullying has occurred and outline the steps the administration has taken to remedy the issue.
An F4 form is for repeated behavior, he says.
“What we do in that case depends on what has taken place,” Stone says. “The minimum we do is talk to the bully. The maximum is to suspend or expel the student.”
Parents are immediately contacted once a bullying incident has taken place, he says. The district also employs counselors to work with students who have been the victims of bullying, ameliorating some of its negative effects.
This is all done with the goal of better reporting and ending bullying in the district’s schools, he says.
“The children and parents of North Little Rock can be confident that if bullying occurred, we will handle it,” Stone says. “But it is important also that you report bullying so we can investigate that. If it is unknown or unsaid, there is no way we can deal with it.
“We really encourage anyone, if you see it happening to someone right next to you, not against you, to report it. It helps everybody,” he adds.
A GROWN-UP ISSUE
Bullying isn’t limited to childhood, Nail says.
“My personal observations of three bully-bosses I’ve had in my life would indicate that bullying in adulthood is driven by the same traits as in childhood: defensive egotism and narcissism,” Nail says. “Measures of defensive egotism and narcissism are usually positively correlated. So in my opinion, bullies tend to bully others for defensive compensation, be they children or adults.”
According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, up to 35 percent of workers have experienced
bullying firsthand. Fifty-eight percent of these victims were women.
And like childhood bullying, adult bullying in the workplace can have long-standing effects. Adult bullying victims are likely to experience the same health and psychological effects of bullying as child victims do, according to the institute.
Steve Rauls, a 2011 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law and a member of the Sanford Law Firm in Little Rock, says he gets many calls from people frustrated with abusive bosses and co-workers, but unfortunately, the law doesn’t often protect workers from these workplace bullies.
“Workplace bullying doesn’t have a legal definition because no state has passed a law against workplace bullying yet,” he says. “Some states have considered bills that define workplace bullying as verbal or physical acts that are intended to intimidate or humiliate a co-worker.”
Although Arkansas is on the leading edge of social legislation, Rauls says that as far as he knows, no one has proposed a workplace bullying law in the state.
“We won’t really know where we should draw the line between behavior that is merely rude and behavior that should be against the law until a few states pass laws and try to enforce them,” he says. “The laws that protect workers from harassment only apply if the harassment is based on the victim’s race, religion, national origin, gender or disability. That is, it’s legal to be a bully, but it’s illegal to be a bigoted bully.”
As no laws on bullying are on the books at this time, remedies can be hard to come by from a legal standpoint, Rauls says, and employees are at the mercy of employer’s policies.
“If the employer can’t or won’t get the bullying under control, then the victim’s job performance is bound to suffer, and he or she may have no choice but to quit the job altogether,” he says. “The bully’s job performance may suffer, too, simply because no one wants to work with a bully.
“Employers who don’t take reports of bullying seriously and fix the problem are taking a bigger risk than they may realize. If an employee gets frustrated enough to call me, one of two things will happen: I’ll either advise that employee to file a lawsuit, or I’ll advise that employee to quit and find another job. Either way, it won’t be good for the employer.”
Chandler Barnwell was 16 years old when he committed suicide on Dec. 7, 2010.
His mother, Anna Barnwell, says the freshman at Parkview Arts & Science Magnet High School in Little Rock had been relentlessly bullied.
On Nov. 27, 2013, a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District Court of Arkansas claimed Chandler’s suicide was a result of him being bullied due to a disability and his failure “to fit the regular gender stereotypes.” The suit blames the Little Rock School District for not protecting him.
The Little Rock School District says it will not comment on pending litigation.
“Suicide is an act of desperation and hopelessness, and suicide is seen as a way out,” Nail says. “Bullying-induced suicide shows the power bullies can have over their victims. Especially when I think of three to five bullies or bully-assistants ganging up on an already weak or marginalized kid to begin with, I can see such adolescents thinking that suicide is their best option, as much as it pains me to say this.”
For students like Carneal, retaliation, not suicide, might have seemed like a reasonable response to constant ridicule.
“Bully victims bully and have been victimized,” Nail says. “That is what you could call retaliatory bullying. It makes sense that if a bully victim is outnumbered, he or she might use means like getting a gun. That being said, there’s got to be better options than bringing a gun to school, even if you are a victim.”
Smith couldn’t agree more.
The mother of two travels the country speaking at schools, churches and events to raise awareness for the ongoing social issue of bullying.
She will make stops at Arkansas schools during National Bullying Prevention Month.
In 2008, she published I Choose to Be Happy with co-author William Croyle. The book outlines the horrific events of that day, as well as her struggle to forgive the man who put her in a wheelchair.
She uses the book as part of her speaking series, using her story to encourage children to stop bullying each other before it’s too late.
Croyle says that sometimes, just seeing Smith makes kids realize the effect bullying could have on their peers.
“When kids see her in a wheelchair, it doesn’t get any more real than that,” he says. “When she goes into a school to speak, they see it. There’s the proof of what can happen when someone is bullied relentlessly.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children is bullied, and only about one-third will report the abuse.
The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school each day for fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
The National School Safety Center states that at least one out of 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school, and harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents.
“We have to teach children that there is a better way to handle things than bullying,” Smith says. “I’ve seen the effects of what it can do to someone. It’s devastating.”
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