The Alabama State Department of Education receives data on bullying from school systems across the state. However, state education officials confirmed to 1819 News that many schools do not report incidents as bullying if they do not meet certain criteria.
At Fairhope Middle School, counselors said they take bullying very seriously but wanted students and parents to know the difference between bullying and being rude or mean.
Alabama law defines bullying as "a continuous pattern of intentional behavior that takes place on or off of school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored function including, but not limited to, cyberbullying or written, electronic, verbal, or physical acts that are reasonably perceived as being motivated by any characteristic of a student, or by the association of a student with an individual who has a particular characteristic, if the characteristic falls into one of the categories of personal characteristics contained in the model policy adopted by the department or by a local board, and implemented at each school."
Counselors at FMS investigate reports of bullying, but Margaret Gambino, the eighth-grade counselor at FMS, said not every case is actually bullying.
"Unfortunately, some children don't do well with getting a single comment made to them," Gambino told 1819 News. "They feel a single comment means they're being bullied."
In an online letter, counselors at FMS said bullying is real at the school, and they will address each case accordingly. However, they said the word "bullied" is overused.
"As we deal with bullying reports, it is becoming clear that many unpleasant exchanges between students are now being labeled 'bullying," the letter states. "As a fellow School Counselor has put it, 'it is a word that is increasingly used to describe any situation where a student has gotten their feelings hurt, whether intentionally or not.' Parents and students utter this word and we spring into action to investigate their reports of bullying. Our students have learned they can instantly control any situation and shift the focus of teachers, and especially parents, from their troubles if they claim they are being bullied."
The letter claims that some students use bullying as an excuse for low grades or conflict with others, and often, the one alleging bullying has also engaged in harassing behavior.
"We call this bully on bully behavior, as displayed when students continuously name call one another, and one then tells on the other," the letter continues.
While it is important to teach children how to cope with life challenges, such as someone talking behind their back or saying something rude, Gambino said real bullying is a real problem, and the school has many resources for students.
"We use High 5 – How to handle verbal bullying, we still do report bullying online," Gambino said. "That goes directly to the counselors then we filter through those."
Gambino said the school also has a bullying prevention program in seventh grade, and it is touched on again once students are in eighth grade.
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