Thirteen-year-old “B.B.”—as he’s called in Circuit Court—says he was teased while attending Thomas Jefferson Middle School and for joining the cheerleading squad there.
“It was in the cafeteria, some was in the classroom and some was in the hallway too and some was in the gym when I was practicing,” he says.
B.B. left Thomas Jefferson and was home schooled beginning April 2012 and now attends Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North, an all male middle school—where he’s still teased, he says.
A lawsuit has been filed on B.B.’s behalf, challenging Jefferson County Public Schools’ response to what’s being called an act of bullying, but school officials argue the district has responded appropriately under the state’s “Golden Rule” law (HB91), which has been highly regarded by website BullyPolice.org.
Since 1999, when Georgia passed the nation’s first anti-bullying law, all but one state—Montana—has passed laws protecting students against bulling. Each state has its own laws, but there are several trends that give better protection to students, and JCPS seems to have followed many of them, according to the district’s response to the lawsuit this week.
Attorney Teddy Gordon—who has litigated against JCPS many times before and who represents B.B.—says he has several active cases related to bullying open.
“What we have right now where the school says, ‘We’ve done the best we can and this is the best we can do,’ well your best isn’t good enough,” he says.
Gordon says despite having a state law and policy on the books, local school districts still aren’t doing enough to protect students like B.B. from acts of bullying.
In the district’s response, JCPS says the court should not intervene in the district’s response to B.B and they provide a timeline of steps administrators and teachers took to respond to the bullying allegations.
For example, at Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, officials met with the alleged bullies’ parents, rearranged B.B.’s schedule and kept an extra eye on the situation, according to the response. Also, a thorough investigation was launched in 2012 including interviews with staff and students.
These practices are among what Julie Herzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center Director, says should be in place for any state and local district to manage bullying incidents.
Hertzog says it’s also important for states to define bullying and include elements of reporting, investigations, training, education and the inclusion of cyber bullying. Many of these are included in Kentucky’s law, according to the federal government’s StopBullying.org.
Further, JCPS recently told WFPL that the number of bullying reports has increase, but that’s because the district has been keeping a closer watch on the issue over the past couple years. Officials say the district can use these student and teacher reports to better target efforts at individual schools.
But for students like B.B. who say they’re bullied but whose recollections are “vague” (according to the JCPS response), it’s not enough.
Gordon recommends JCPS enforce a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, which is part of the district’s student behavior Code of Conduct, but is meant to discipline only the most extreme violations like assault or drug distribution.
“I would [as the district] instruct all the students that bullying is zero-tolerant and if we see you bullying, harassing, or anything else, you’re suspended whether it be in school or out of school or whatever you have to do to protect the students,” Gordon says.
Zero-tolerance policies have been criticized for attributing to disproportionate student suspensions for minority students and students with disabilities and several—including JCPS officials—have recognized research showing the policies are ineffective for certain types of discipline.
Hertzog says bullying is a behavior problem and zero-tolerance isn’t the answer. Instead, she says student violations are opportunities to have “teaching moments” in schools where students can discuss and resolve their issues more appropriately.
“It gives everybody the opportunity to correct their behavior,” she says.
These supports and initiatives—like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports—have become increasingly popular in the public school system to try to keep students in class instead of using out-of-school suspensions for punishment.
B.B. told media Thursday that despite the lawsuit, the teachers have been largely supportive, and one even asked him to write a complaint note.
“She had told me to write the note because she had seen some of the things that were going on and another teacher…is just high spirited to see me,” he says.
B.B.’s mother Bekishia Cosby says after her son was assigned to Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North, she addressed the issue with staff at the new school.
“They reassured me that nothing was going to happen,” she says.
Cosby says she made a few trips to the school following up with repeated bullying incidents before taking the issue to court.
(Image via Shutterstock)