In a text message, a student threatens to break another student’s little pinkie. Across the quad, a student throws a drink into a student’s face while another teen grabs a cell phone, throws it on the ground and steps on it.
Any of these acts could and do happen on Payson High School’s campus.
While they may seem like minor acts of bullying, a student could face serious legal consequences and get thrown out of school.
That was message Town Attorney Tim Wright delivered during a session at the second annual Depression Awareness Student Workshop at PHS May 4.
While punching someone is an obvious act of violence, using a cell phone to send a threatening message also constitutes harassment.
“There are a lot of ways to complete harassment,” he said. “And the Gila County Attorney’s Office has zero tolerance for bullying.”
PHS counselors say bullying is the school’s “most prominent problem.”
It was one of 19 issues addressed during Depression Awareness. Students choose among the break out groups and visited two, each session designed to tie back to depression awareness and prevention.
Other topics included personal safety in technology, abusive relationships, eating disorders, suicide awareness, entering the job market, depression and sexuality and homophobia.
When Wright asked students what type of bullying they had seen on campus, students said all types. From teasing and hazing to cyber bullying, where students use the computer to send threatening messages.
While most students are aware of bullying, most don’t report it.
Wright explained if a student thinks they have seen or been a victim, they should report it to school officials or an officer.
Most likely, one state statute has been violated. For example, being spit on is a form of assault. Preventing someone from leaving a classroom (other than a teacher) can be kidnapping and following someone around school is stalking, he explained.
The consequence for these acts ranges from community service to jail time.
“And just because you are a juvenile, doesn’t mean you will be tried in juvenile court,” he said. “The prosecution could wait until you turn 18 to prosecute.”
Several years ago, a student committed cyber bullying when he was 17, but was convicted for the act as an adult.
“In high school we call people bullies, but after 18, we call them criminals,” he said.