Orange is a popular color in Tennessee, and not just because it’s the signature hue of the beloved University of Tennessee Volunteers.
Students, teachers and staff at Warren County schools proudly proclaimed their orange Wednesday as a statement against bullying. The occasion was Unity Day, when schools across America declared their continuing, year-round opposition to discrimination, harassment and all other forms of human oppression — including cyberbullying.
“We are absolutely committed to providing a safe, supportive and nurturing environment for all of our students, one where bullying is not tolerated in any form or degree,” said Warren County Director of Schools Bobby Cox. “The students themselves, with support and guidance from faculty and staff, have really taken the lead in combatting this problem, and we’re extremely proud of their sense of compassion and their leadership on this issue.
“The best place to deal with bullying is at is very beginning so it doesn’t have a chance to get out of control,” Cox continued. “Students who are being harassed must know that we support them and the perpetrators need to know their behavior is not acceptable and that there can be serious consequences for that could affect them for the rest of their lives.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education (www.stopbullying.gov), many victims try to handle the emotional injury without seeking help from adults, including parents or teachers. “Statistics … show that an adult was notified in less than half (40 percent) of bullying incidents,” the information site reports.
The reasons for their suffering in silence includes a feeling of helplessness, a fear of retaliation, or the shame of being called a tattletale.
But adults should be alert to signs such as unexplained mood changes and even self-mutilation.
Three eighth-graders at Warren County Middle School — Ty Martin, Tyler Taylor and John Jackson — reported seeing classmates “cutting themselves” because they were being bullied.
“I don’t think it’s fair to them [the victims] because the [perpetrators] wouldn’t want to be in that situation,” Jackson remarked. The students also surmised that bullying can discourage attendance in class or at school events, further alienating the victims from their normal social structures.
Warren County School Board policy defines “bullying/intimidation/harassment” as “an act that substantially interferes with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities or performance and the act take place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school provided equipment or transportation, or at any official school bus stop [that] has the effect of:
“Physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property; knowingly placing a student or students in reasonable fear of physical harm…; causing emotional distress to a student or students; or creating a hostile educational environment.” The board policy (JCAD, which may be viewed online at the Warren County Schools website) goes on to describe sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that can on the basis of sex, deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or receive benefits, services or opportunities in the school’s program.”
The local school system has actively pushed anti-bullying programs, including the model national program known as Move to Stand, for several years. System staff attorney Robin Phillips and recently retired instructional supervisor Betty Wood have been key leaders in the ongoing campaigns, which include student committees that meet regularly in the schools.
”I commend them both [Phillips and Wood] for their vision and out-of-the-box thinking,” Cox emphasized, “and I also commend our students, teachers and building principals as well as our board of education for taking a proactive and positive approach to stop bullying in our community.”