Students face sanctions for goading peers in fight
(Tenn.) The video begins with two grade school boys chasing after another boy and hitting him multiple times in the back of the head. Behind them, a swarm of students cheer and sling taunts or just stand watching in silence.
In some states, the scenario could end in suspensions for those involved, or, in select states, a discussion with bystanders about more appropriate responses when witnessing bullying and fighting.
In Tennessee last month, 10 children were reportedly handcuffed at their elementary school and taken into custody after witnessing a fight and not intervening – an action that has prompted a national debate over citizenship policies.
“In most cases, the directives are more about educating students on how best to respond, and less about consequences for students should they fail to act,” Stephanie Aragon, policy researcher for the Education Commission of the States, said in an email. “In addition, many states include in their policies reporting or counseling requirements for witnesses of bullying incidences.”
The aggressive intervention from authorities in the northern Tennessee district was prompted by a video taken of the incident, which occurred off campus and involved participants as young as six or seven years old being urged on by older students.
A handful of states do include steps to address that concern through state-issued codes of conduct or model policies regarding students who witness fights or bullying.
Often, states may require school districts to create anti-bullying policies, but discretion over what those policies will entail is left to local school boards, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service survey.
More than half of states offer counseling services to victims of and witnesses to school bullying, which has long shown to have lasting, negative impacts on kids’ self-esteem, academic progress and school engagement.
Those states which do explicitly discourage passive bystander support of bullying and harassment – including Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia and New York – suggest schools empower students to report an incident, walk away from a fight or constructively attempt to stop it.
“Passive observers give tacit permission to bullies while more active bystanders instigate the aggressor by prodding her or him to continue or by laughing, cheering, or making comments that encourage the bullying behavior,” according to the Virginia Board of Education model policy to address bullying.
In New York, if a student were to record a fight on a cell phone and put it online, he or she would be shown methods to break up the incident or act as an ally for the peer who is bullied. A student may also report the incident trusting that they will not become the next victim.
Such efforts exist in stark contrast to policies mirroring those in the Knox County School District, also in Tennessee, where a student who recorded a fight between four girls and uploaded it to Twitter last year was disciplined in accordance with school board policy – alongside those physically involved.
Similar incidents have occurred in California and North Carolina in recent years, with districts citing violations of social media policy or the prohibition of unauthorized recordings on school campus as reasoning behind punishing students who record and upload videos of fights on campus.
In Tennessee, several lawmakers called for the state Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the arrests of the children at Hobgood Elementary School and whether they were justified.