March 2, 2005 - For many students, school may be more than a place to learn reading and arithmetic; it may also be a battleground filled with constant teasing, harassment and bullying.

Twenty-nine percent of students surveyed in public schools nationally over a one-year period reported bullying occurred on a daily basis, according to the National Center for Education Statistics Web site.

Bullying can not only be an annoyance, but may also be a sign of serious problems to come, said District 28 Rep. David T. Bradley, D-Tucson, licensed counselor and president and executive director of La Paloma Family Services.

With increasing violence in schools, Bradley thinks now is the best time to institute guidelines in the form of a new law dissuading such intimidation and "abuses of power" that come in the form of bullying.

Currently, the Arizona Senate is reviewing a bill, SB 1179, that is nicknamed the anti-bullying bill. Bradley is the prime sponsor of the companion anti-bullying bill, HB 2368, that just passed the House with a 56-3 vote, and is on its way to the Senate.

Under the bill, schools would be required to enforce policies and procedures that prohibit students from harassing, intimidating and bullying. If such behaviors are reported, the schools are then required to conduct a formal investigation of the suspected behavior, and the administrators must discipline accordingly.

"We are not trying to turn schools into police wards," Bradley said, adding that it is important for schools, students and parents to be aware that bullying is a big problem.

If passed, the bill could go into effect anywhere from April to June depending on the end of session, Bradley said.

Schools would also have to establish a way for students to be able to report offenses confidentially.

One reason Bradley said students need to be able to report violence, intimidation and bullying confidentially is that it is not safe to solve problems like in years passed.

"It's a different world we live in," he said, referring back to his youth when it was customary to solve issues with fists and confrontation.

"If you do that in this day and age you are going to get a gun in your head," Bradley said.

Six out of 10 American teens witness bullying at least once a day, according to the 2003 National Crime Prevention Council.

Often, the response to bullying is "kids will be kids," but Bradley said starting young and enforcing adequate policies to curb such behaviors is the only way to prevent future problems.

In his career, Bradley has dealt with more than 6,000 kids and supports the anti-bullying bill as an "early warning mechanism" that can stop such behaviors before they turn destructive or become violent, he said.

"Education is the only way," Bradley said.

Though not against the bill, one such educator believes his district has adequate procedures already in place to deal with and prevent bullying.

Chris Ahearn, principal of Canyon View Elementary School in the Catalina Foothills School District, said that as a district the foothills has a "zero tolerance about bullying."

One such way to establish a no tolerance policy is with a detailed manual on rules and procedures, referred to as the discipline matrix, Ahearn said.

The matrix is distributed to parents and students so they will know the district's required student conduct.

The matrix states that students must refrain from any improper behavior such as "physical abuse, threatening or interfering with the educational institution."

It is important for students to be aware of limits and expectations of conduct within their school, Ahearn said.

The matrix provides not only the rules but also specific punishments that go along with any inappropriate behaviors.

Ahearn admits that the Foothills district has a "very strong disciplinary system in place."

Catalina Foothills Superintendent Mary Kamerzell said that, even though she has not yet read the anti-bullying bill, she is certain her district already has adequate policies in place.

"We have a culture in every one of our schools that make it clear that (bullying) is unacceptable," Kamerzell said. "We are not saying that there isn't room for improvement."

For schools to be successful and for students to thrive, Kamerzell said it is important to have a bullying-free environment.

Often bullies are seen as tough ones - the rulers of the schools. They are the big kids, the ones that no one wants to mess with.

Critics of the anti-bullying bill may be worried that it isn't possible to create a clear definition of what a bully really is, since many agree the definition changes with grade level.

Principal Ahearn said he feels it is possible to define a bully but it is not a clear and simple process, more of a situational one.

Every case of reported intimidation and bullying, Ahearn said, must be approached differently, and districts must look out for false reporting.

It is situational, he said, but he admits that "I know (bullying) is clear when I see their faces."

While Coronado K-8 Middle School Counselor Matt Cornett admits bullying occurs, he said that in his school it is not often seen.

"Once in a while you have kids that bully peers," Cornett said. "Those kids are few and far between."

Even though Cornett, an Amphitheater Public Schools counselor, may not see the effects of bullying in his school, that does not mean it is not there, said Bradley, it may just be taking another form. Rumors are another form of bullying, he said. And that is a clear "abuse of power over another."

Rob Vinyard, Cross Middle School's principal, said a bully can be defined as anyone who is threatening or causes intimidation against another, and that is taken seriously within the Amphitheater school district

"We have a mechanism already in place, (the law) wouldn't be a new thing for us," Vinyard said.

Two years ago, Amphitheater Public Schools established a confidential hotline that is available for students to call and report violations of school regulations, violence or intimidation they may be feeling, Vinyard said.

"It is one of the most effective tools that we have," he said.

The proposed anti-bullying bill would require schools to establish a confidential way for students to report problems, a move that, Vinyard said, Amphitheater has already established.

The hotline allows the "kids to not feel like they're in a tattle role," he said. "But they are doing what they feel they should."

While Vinyard does not oppose the proposed anti-bullying bill, he does worry that any imposed legislation could take authority away from the school districts. That's a concern Bradley said he understands.

"Almost every district has in place a harassment policy," Bradley said.

The bill is just a way to make sure that every school in Arizona has a policy to prevent bullying, he said.

The bill will not tell schools the exact polices that they need to have, just that they need them, Bradley said.

"Funding is a primary concern when you misunderstand the bill," he said, adding that, since most districts already have something in place, not much will need to change.

The anti-bullying bill is just a way to "intervene as soon as possible," Bradley said.

"This is just really bringing bullying to the forefront," he said. "Bullying is real."

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