New Law Tough On Bullies

'Bullying Statute' increases penalties for harassment

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Payson High School teachers and coaches were quick on the scene to stop a fist fight that broke out after school between two teenage boys.

It was a typical incident -- one boy claimed he was tripped and the other teen denied doing it. Words were exchanged, then blows.

A few years ago, the teachers, coaches and school administrators would have decided upon and administered the consequences for involvement in the fight.

This time, however, Payson police officers were summoned, witnesses were asked for written statements, the two boys' parents were called to the school campus, law enforcement reports compiled and the boys charged.

"That's something we are now required to do," PHS athletic director Dave Bradley said. "It (the consequence) is pretty well out of our hands."

Changes in how teachers, coaches and administrators deal with fights, intimidation and harassment were made last April when Governor Janet Napolitano signed House Bill 2368.

The bill, which became law in July, has come to be known as "The Bullying Statute."

The law provides that every public school must adopt a hazing policy in which district employees are required to report all suspected incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

Bradley emphasizes the word "all" in the statute.

"Anything that happens, we must report," he said.

The law also says schools must adopt a confidential process in which students can report incidents of harassment and establish a clearly defined process for investigating suspected cases of intimidation and bullying.

The hazing prevention policy, the law states, must also be printed in every student handbook and be distributed to parents.

The new law defines hazing as "any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, whether individually or with others, against another student."

A Mayo Clinic study in the Journal of the American Medical Association defines bullying as having three criteria:

  • Behavior is intended to harm or disturb.
  • Imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one.
  • Behavior occurs repeatedly.

At an annual Arizona School Board Association school law conference, PUSD administrators were told that infractions of the law can include even nonverbal or emotional bullying and cyberbullying -- sending insulting messages over the Internet.

Following the conference, PUSD superintendent Sue Myers said the local district had a strong anti-bullying policy before the law was passed, but the district is studying ways to strengthen it even more."

"We have a task force, led by Christy Walton, studying it," she said.

Under the leadership of Walton, PUSD's Parent-Community Liaison, the task force applied for and received an Arizona Behavioral Institute grant that funds ways to meet state-mandated anti-hazing policies.

"We don't have a huge, district-wide bullying problem, but we wanted to be sure we were in compliance," Walton said. "We've been to four conferences to learn ways to use data to build a creative positive behavior environment."

Last week, PUSD school resource officer Les Barr hosted assemblies at both Rim Country Middle School and Payson High School to explain to students what the anti-bully law means.

Barr told the students that arrests were up partly because of the new law. At the high school, 22 arrests were made in the first 37 days of school and 10 were made at RCMS.

Payson Police Sgt. Tom Tieman, the supervisor of Payson PD's school resource officers, and assistant principal Tim Fruth said Barr did a good job of explaining the law to the students, but they wondered if the message was getting through.

"Some of them think it's a big joke, they just don't get it," Fruth said.

"You wonder if some just don't understand the seriousness of it all," Tieman said. "If they don't, they probably soon will."

Those accused of breaking the new law can be charged with a variety of violations, including assault, disorderly conduct and disrupting an educational institution.

A recent Hamilton Fish Institute study on bullying showed about 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools every month in the United States.

The study also says most of the attacks go unseen or unaddressed by adults and unreported by the victims, who often fear further retaliation.

After signing HB 2368, Napolitano said the bill would encourage students to speak out against bullies.

In PUSD, administrators agree their goal is to clearly define disallowed behavior and do away with inconsistencies in enforcement that can lead to confusion among the students.

"They know what unacceptable (behavior) is, and when it occurs we have to deal with it," Fruth said. "We will protect our students."

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