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What constitutes bullying?

Definition needs four criteria

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POSTED December 13, 2013 1:01 a.m.

A high school student is “physically assaulted” without apparent provocation. The incident happens just once. It gets reported to school and police authorities. The student’s parent says her daughter was bullied. Is this bullying?

In another incident at an elementary school, a group of kids attacks a young student. The victim sustains a knee injury. Two weeks later, the same group of kids beats up another student on campus. Is this bullying?

At still another elementary school, a fifth grader is punched in the back by two kids. The physical assault continues through sixth grade. Other times, the assault is verbal. The victim never retaliates but bears each incident quietly. Until one day, a girl starts hitting him in the back, without provocation as in the previous incidents. But this time, the boy is finally tired of being picked on, turns around and hits the girl back in the stomach.

Is this bullying?

All of the above were actual incidents that happened in Manteca Unified School District.

Bullying, to be considered as such, has to meet four criteria based on the professional definition of the term, according to Manteca Unified Director of Child Welfare and Attendance Rupinder Bhatti.

The district’s definition of bullying comes from Dan Olweus (pronounced OLVAYUS), a Swedish-born “expert who studied and researched bullying” for many years,  she said. These are the four criteria:

• it has to be a specific type of aggression – verbal, physical, psychological,

• the behavior’s intent is to harm or disturb,

• the act is repeated and carried out over time,

• there has to be an imbalance of power where the student victim stands alone and is not able to defend himself or herself.

This is Olweus’ definition of bullying which is being used throughout the State of California: “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

This is where school district officials feel parents get confused as to what constitutes bullying, Bhatti explained.

“If it is one incident, they automatically assume it’s bullying,” she said.

As a result, the district’s Child Welfare department is currently making an effort to develop a program that will involve having a “training administrator” who would not only train and educate parents as to the “difference between bullying and inappropriate behavior” but also to equip school administrators with the knowledge and training needed to investigate and address bullying prevention, Bhatti said.

“Our goal is to stand together and work together. In society today, bullying is a very serious issue,” she noted.

The district is doing its best to address this problem in a proactive manner, and is trying hard to work together with the community to resolve this behavior together because “it takes a village to raise a child,” she added. “Our goal is to resolve and eliminate bullying but…, that’s our hope and our wish.”

It’s the school sites’ responsibility to investigate all reported bullying incidences that take place on their campus, whether it’s the victim or the perpetrator that is the focus of the investigation.

“They actually investigate the situation thoroughly and document everything,” Bhatti said.

At the end of the school year, all that information is filed into the district information system and based on that data, a statistics report is made. This is the first time this type of reporting is being implemented on the subject of bullying incidents, with the current school year’s data available possibly in June or July 2014.

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