The school year is coming to an end in Holmes and Washington counties, but local students and officials say they will continue to step up efforts to combat bullying beyond the spanse of the academic year.
"Cyber bullying is one of the most difficult issues we deal with in the schools today," said Holmes County Superintendent of Schools Eddie Dixon. "It can occur anywhere and at any time of day. Our teachers and administrators are continuously reminded of the dangers of cyber bullying in an effort to keep all Holmes County students."
Holmes County schools have begun reserving a week in the Spring to show age appropriate videos to all students and teachers about the dangers of cyber bullying.
"This week is promoted on our website and on posters in the schools," he said. "(Bullying) is also addressed in our policies, code of conduct book, website, and personnel handbook. We have an anonymous online form available to report bullying and cyber bullying and tips available for students and parents on how to handle and prevent all forms of bullying."
Holmes County schools have also teamed up with the Holmes County Sheriff's Office in preventing cyber bullying, which hosted a student created video contest initiated by School Resource Officer Greg Johnson. "Our students were very creative in conveying a positive message preventing cyber bullying," said Dixon.
Holmes County Sheriff Tim Brown says prevention and education is a key priority for his office.
"The Legislature has addressed cyber bullying and is awaiting the vote for the law to pass," said Brown.
"The impact of bullying has been well documented, and studies have shown that difficulty making friends, loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, poor academic achievement, and truancy are all associated with being bullied. We must instill in our youth the ideals of civility and respect, and we must create environments that prevent bullying where our children live, learn and play."
Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock shares Brown's concerns and has also worked with the Washington County School District to provide education about the issue. Haddock says a key component of the success to any anti-bullying campaign is parental involvement, however.
"We have to start education at home," said Haddock. "We need to teach our children that we are all different, and that's the way God intended it - but we always need to proved as much education as possible through our school system and teach students to stand up and say no to bullying."
Students in Roulhac Middle School's 6th grade Critical Thinking Skills Classes are ahead of the game in that department. The students launched their own anti-bullying campaign, showing a video and providing education material for other students.
Washington County School Superintendent Joseph Taylor says districts are monitored by the Department of Education for bullying.
"We just had a monitoring session on-site with a representative from the department to make sure that we are following law and to ensure that we have mechanisms in place for reporting and procedures to handle any and all allegations of bullying," said Taylor. "As a district, we take bullying allegations seriously and want to make sure all schools are safe for everyone. During the monitoring on May 22, the representative was very impressed by the safeguards and procedures that we have in place."
"We are continuing to improve and implement safe procedures for our students and staff. When we do not have on-site reviews, we do self monitoring each school year. If we have bullying cases, they are reported to the state through the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) System."
Not just school systems and law enforcement are taking a stand. Other organizations, like Trinity Martial Arts in Chipley, are being proactive in the fight against bullying, too. TMA students recently signed the "Hyper Bully Defense Pledge" to do their best on a personal level to stop bullying when they see it happening.
School owner and Head Instructor Jason Smith says nearly all of those enrolled took the pledge.
"It's a good thing to train them early in both right and wrong and compassion," said Smith.
A bill intended to make bullying punishable by up to one year in jail was approved by a state Senate committee last month but died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on May 2. Some legislators have vowed to keep working on anti-bullying legislation similar passed.
Look for legislative updates in upcoming editions.