Bullying versus normal conflict?
The Vail District superintendent says the definitions are critical.Photo: Video by kgun9.com
Reporter: Valerie Cavazos
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- Is it bullying or a rite of passage through childhood? This legitimate question has been brought up quite a bit lately as bullying becomes a major public health problem.
Arizona's law requires school districts to have anti-bullying polices and procedures and they vary from district to district and school to school. So how do parents know when to dismiss a bullying complaint as a normal conflict? Vail Superintendent Dr. Calvin Baker spells it out for parents in his district.
"Dealing with bullying is difficult. It isn't black and white - there's a whole lot of gray," Baker said. A reason why 9OYS's investigations into bullying often triggers an overwelming response from our viewers. Many express outrage and concern, but some believe the issue is blown out of proportion.
One viewer ("Funnyside") posted: Bullying has been going on forever, so just live with it.
Baker agrees bullying isn't new -- or different -- which is why he says it's important for parents in his district to understand the definition.
"Today, many people look at any kind of conflict, and call it bullying. Anybody can be a bully."
So we wanted to know -- what's the difference between bullying and conflict. "Bullying is intent -- an act that takes place over time," he said.
A similar definition exists in most school policies -- but what about conflict? The district defines it and spells it out in the Parent Handbooks. Conflict is a natural part of development -- a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values or goals -- and can be used beneficially to teach important life skills.
So by definition -- even an all out brawl -- that takes place just once -- is just a conflict. "Two wonderful kids at school who got mad each other over something, it could be a girlfriend. They could get into a fight. One of them gets beat up. That's not necessarily bullying," said Baker, who adds that Vail students could face possible school suspension and arrest for assault, but the fight won't be labelled as bullying.
Baker explains that if assaults continue -- that's bullying -- and Arizona state law requires districts to report cases of bullying. "The critical issue isn't it being called bullying or a fight. It's that it gets dealt with," he said.
Baker says dealing with bullying issues is difficult because it's not a nice clean line when behavior moves from conflict to bullying -- and human judgement must be used. "I could replace all my principals with a computer program. I could simply type in the behavior and it spits out the discipline. That's not the way things work. That's not the way you deal with your kids as a parent. You listen and then a judgment has to be made. And we hope we make the right judgment. But sometimes we don't.
The superintendent does admit that the difference between bullying and conflict can be confusing to some parents. He has run seminars to explain the district's policies and definitions and often attendence is light.