With parental concern about their children getting bullied every year, Alexander City and Tallapoosa County schools deal with cases individually. The school systems have updated bullying policies and look into cases when they are reported to the schools’ administrations.
Alexander City Schools uses the Jamari Terrell Williams Student Bullying Policy, which was named in honor of a 10-year-old Montgomery student who killed himself from being bullied. Gov. Kay Ivey put an updated policy named after Williams into effect in 2018.
The policy replaces the word “harassment” with “bullying” and adds cyber bullying and actions taken place off school grounds to it.
According to the Alexander City Schools and Tallapoosa County Schools 2019-20 student code of conducts, bullying is a Class 2 violation. Repeated and or excessive Type 2 offenses become Class 3 violations for both systems.
Fighting is a Class 3 violation for both school systems. Alexander City Schools defines Class 3 bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats and hate crimes as being “verbally, non-verbally, or by written or printed communication maliciously threatening injury to another student, property or reputation of another; intent to extort money or any pecuniary advantage at all, or with the intent to compel the student threatened, or any other student to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his/her will, threatening words or actions, coupled with an apparent ability to carry out the threat, creating a fear in the other student, including instigation of a fight.”
First offenses for Type 3 violations are five days out-of-school suspension (OSS) or a suspended discipline review committee (DRC) hearing for city schools. The DRC is made up of the director of student services, director of secondary or elementary schools and a school counselor or other school or district personnel deemed appropriate by the director of student services.
According to the city school handbook, further offenses are punished by a suspension pending a DRC hearing.
Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford said it’s important those reporting bullying include as much information as possible so the schools can have a thorough investigation. The school system encourages students to report to an administrator, teacher or anyone they feel comfortable with at the school.
City schools consider the level of harm; reasons surrounding the incident; the nature of the behaviors of the students; the incident’s context; and the last history of the students involved when considering punishment for bullying. The method used determines whether the offense will be Class 2 or Class 3 which thus determines the punishment.
“A determination of which consequence will be imposed will only be made after all of the facts and surrounding circumstances are taken into consideration,” Lankford said in a statement. “The classification of bullying is based upon the severity of a potential threat and failure to comply with prior mandates and discipline action. In the event of a threat of harm or violence Alexander City Schools must take into account the following: the intent, the will to do harm and or ability to carry out the threat.”
In addition to these policies a few more steps are taken at the secondary level. The alleged offender has to meet with the school counselor and can sign an anti-bullying contract, which outlines the definition of bullying and its consequences. Parents are notified when an incident occurs, according to Lankford.
All schools handle bullying the same way with the exception of added steps to secondary level.
City school guidance counselors teach students how to recognize bullying and the importance of kindness and respect for themselves and others, according to Lankford.
“In August of each year our counselors do classroom guidance with a focus on anti-bullying and will reiterate this topic at the beginning of the second semester,” Lankford said.
The city schools also educate students on bullying during National Anti-Bullying Week.
Lankford emphasized for parents to reach out to the school board if bullying has been addressed at the schools and students are still being harassed.
Tallapoosa County Schools
The Tallapoosa County Board of Education will vote to approve changing its bullying policy to align with the Williams policy at its Monday meeting, according to director of student services Casey Davis.
First offenses for Type 2 violations in the county schools are five to 10 days in OSS and second offenses are punished by recommended Crossroads, the county schools’ alternative program. Students must complete their assigned time at Crossroads before returning to their original school.
Reeltown High School principal Dr. Tom Cochran said bullying is not a current issue at the school, but the administration has dealt with it in the past. He said schools will always have a bullying issue because it’s human nature.
“If you were to have 450 adults together, they wouldn’t all get along,” Cochran said.
Reeltown deals with bullying by starting with prevention. Its Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program teaches students about bullying and how to report it. The school also has grade level advisors who meet with parents and students two to three times a year to talk about bullying, according to Cochran.
Reeltown uses the Williams policy.
Students are also encouraged to use Central Alabama Crime Stoppers to report bullying, weapons and or drugs and receive a reward if weapons and drugs are confiscated.
Students and parents can fill out a form if a bullying incident occurred and provide documentation. Cochran said the school references it when it gets turned in and does an investigation.
“Sometimes it turns out to be bullying or harassment and sometimes it isn’t,” Cochran said.
Cochran said there have been a few times where the school investigates a bullying report from parents and find out the act was reciprocation from bullying.
Reeltown utilizes its school resource officer and guidance counselors for reporting. Cochran said most of the bullying reports come from students telling guidance counselors.
Because bullying now includes cyber bullying, the schools have to go beyond the scope of school grounds when doing investigations.
Cochran said each bullying case is different. Some are minor Class 2 offenses but issues such as physical fighting, threats and sexual harassment are Class 3 offenses. Repeated behaviors are also not tolerated and can fall into Class 3 violations.
“Over the past decade I’ve dealt with everything from minor (incidents) to where charges were filed,” Cochran said. “It was very rare but I’ve dealt with that as well. We want to make sure all children are safe.”
Horseshoe Bend School principal James Aulner said the school deals with bullying on a case-by-case basis. If a student is caught fighting or punching, he or she will be punished by five days each of in-school-suspension and OSS and will be monitored for further incidents to see if a pattern has developed.
“Parents often confuse two students disagreeing as bullying,” Aulner said in an email. “The legal definition for bullying calls for the behavior to be ongoing and sustained. Most incidents are student disagreements that people want to lump into a bullying context.”
Aulner said the school deals with bullying through its counseling department and DARE program.
“I assure you that we are proactive and treat each allegation of bullying with the seriousness it deserves,” Aulner said.
The school has guest speakers visit the high school and elementary classes and speak against bullying others.
“We have had Gussie the flying squirrel come in to speak to the students on bullying; Mic and Ric assembly spoke about treating people with respect and some character education,” Aulner said.
Dadeville High School principal Chris Hand said bullying is also judged on a case-by-case situation at the school.
“You never know when it’s going to come up,” Hand said.
All bullying reports at Dadeville go to the administration and Hand goes over a form with whoever is reporting it. After filling in details of the incident and who was there, Hand will give it to the school resource officer who will contact the victim’s parents and ask if they want to file charges if the student is under 18.
“I go over it every time someone mentions (bullying),” Hand said.
Hand stressed bullying has to be a repeated offense for it to get investigated. If incidents are done once, they could be classified as harassment, assault or anything else, he said.
“A lot of times people think it’s a one shot but that’s not the case according to the state law,” Hand said.
Dadeville also encourages students to report bullying to Crime Stoppers.
If students report bullying to the guidance counselor, they will fill out the forms but it will still go back to Hand.
“If it’s reported to them, it’s reported to me,” Hand said.
It’s a case-by-case basis for Class 2 violations to become Class 3 at Dadeville. Hand said the administration emphasizes wanting to know when bullying happens right away and not after the fact so it can be proactive.
Davis said Reeltown and Dadeville elementary schools face some discipline issues, but there has not been a number of incidents of bullying coming to the board of education.
The elementary schools’ counselors teach character education on bullying. Davis said an issue with investigating bullying is sometimes it was nothing.
“You have to see a pattern of behaviors,” Davis said. “Anytime (the board gets) an incident that relates to bullying the first thing we do is refer back to the schools.”
Davis said the school system wants its students to be in a loving and caring environment while being educated.
“We take bullying seriously in Tallapoosa County,” Davis said. “Anytime we get a situation, we’re going to investigate it and we’re going to do our best.”
Davis said it’s important for the county schools to cultivate an environment where students feel safe.