Whether students feel safe at school can affect their ability to succeed, and officials in Gainesville and Hall County school systems say they work on student safety in many areas, including bullying.
In line with state law, both school districts have bullying policies that set expectations and protect students, according to school officials.
“Bullying is a legitimate concern and a very real challenge for schools,” said Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall County Schools. “From my perspective, I would be most concerned if a school district failed to acknowledge that bullying takes place and that it is a behavior that must be addressed. Bullying should not be tolerated.”
Bullying, as defined under Georgia law, can include an “act which occurs on school property, on school vehicles, at school bus stops, or at school-related functions or activities, or by use of data or software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, computer network or other electronic technology of a local school system.”
State law prohibits bullying and requires the issue to be included in the Student Code of Conduct.
School policies in Gainesville and Hall specifically include threats to cause harm to another person “when accompanied by an apparent ability to do so,” and “intentional display of force” that would give a person reason to fear harm. The policy also includes written, verbal or physical acts that threaten physical harm, substantially affect a student’s education or “is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment” or “has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school.”
Bullying also refers to cyberbullying, which occurs through electronic devices, according to the policies.
“At the district level, we recognize the need to support schools in their active investigations of bullying incidents,” Bales said. “If a student feels they are being bullied, he or she needs to report it to the building principal or an assistant principal. With regard to parents, I would note that bullying is not simply a behavior or set of behaviors that takes place during school hours. Bullying can happen within multiple environments with cyberbullying incidents being one unfortunate example.”
Martina Hewitt, a fifth-grade teacher at Gainesville Exploration Academy, said it is important for parents to talk to their students about bullying before the school year starts “to remind them about making best choices throughout the school year and being a role model.”
“If the children aren’t feeling safe at school, are they really succeeding?” she asked. “In order to ensure that safety, the students need to be knowledgeable and aware of what bullying is, ways to prevent bullying, but also how to handle situations that they may be involved in when there is bullying.”
“All schools within the (Gainesville) district have an obligation to promote mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance among students, staff and volunteers,” according to a statement in the district’s policy. “Behavior that infringes on the physical, emotional and social safety of any student will not be tolerated.”