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October 31, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Jury award highlights need for bullying prevention

The picture of the teenage girl had been altered through Photoshop. It showed her in a suggestive pose. Flyers with that picture, and her phone number, were posted throughout Pendleton Heights High School.

It was a clear case of bullying. But what hurt the girl even more was the response from school officials who reportedly left the posters hanging in the hallways after she complained about the flyers. She was never offered counseling.

She sued the school district over the 2008 incident. Jurors found in her favor and awarded the woman, now 20, damages totaling $50,000. The school, jurors felt, failed to protect one of its own students.

Which is worse? A constant barrage of bullying by fellow students or the lack of a compassionate response by school leaders? In this case, the district apparently did not follow its own policies and procedures in helping one of its students.

It’s due to such faulty responses that the Indiana legislature requires schools to have policies in place, have students learn about bullying prevention and have training for staffers. The bill, signed into law earlier this year, is a step in the right direction. However, it is an unfortunate sign of the times perhaps that school districts need to be pushed into setting up guidelines.

Bullying has taken on the form of cyber-tactics in an Internet world. School staffers, students and parents can be confronted by forms of bullying they never experienced in the past. But everyone should know how bullies adapt to changing technologies.

And the leaders of Pendleton schools — even back in 2008 — should have known of the ways to handle and the consequences of bullying in a new age. As technology changes, so does the emotional impact of bullying; it is no longer confined to pushing and shoving on the playground. Students are bullied through Photoshop, Facebook and a myriad of other devices.

So the $50,000 jury award highlights the need for all schools to have a proactive plan to stop bullying and to deal with incidents quickly and decisively. Schools must do everything they can to provide compassion and understanding to victims of bullying.

— The Anderson Herald-Bulletin

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