GOLDEN RULE: Beaufort County Schools speaks out about bullying

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, April 5, 2014

“Our hearts are heavy in the Pitt County School System as we look for answers regarding the death of a student at North Pitt High School … When a student is faced with adversity, it is our hope that they will share that information with our administrators, teachers, or support staff so we can take steps to address the situation. This is a tragic event, and we will continue to cooperate with investigators and offer support to the family, students, and staff who are affected by this loss.”

That was the statement released by Pitt County Schools last week in response to the suicide of a Pitt County student. The stated reasoning behind the suicide: bullying, an ongoing concern of students, parents, teachers and administrators, and now cause for investigation into the death of Jeffrey Hulon Jr. by the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there is no universally recognized definition of bullying, though bullying acts have common elements: repeated, aggressive exploitation of power by verbal, social or physical mistreatment.

Between one and four U.S. students say they have been bullied, with most incidents occurring in middle school. It’s not as simple as one student bullying another. Rather, it is most often groups of students who support one another in the bullying of other students. While DHHS maintains that bulling on its own is not a “cause” of suicide, it can “lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior.”

This is why Beaufort County Schools has put mechanisms in place to report bullying and wants parents, students and the community to be aware BCS has avenues to report bullying, or any other crime, involving students.

“It is heartbreaking to see the ramifications of bullying, especially when it results in the loss of life,” Dr. Don Phipps, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, wrote in a press release issued Thursday. “We take all allegations and reports of any form of bullying very seriously.”

Each of the 14 Beaufort County Schools’ websites has a way to report such behavior to those who can take corrective measures. On each website, a navigation bar on the left side of the page bears a “Report a Bully or Harassment” tab in which information submitted goes directly to administrators and the School Resource Officer. BCS also provides the “It’s Okay to Say” tip line, in which students can leave messages —checked daily — to report cases of bullying or any other crime-related matter. Both methods give students the option of anonymity.

“We want all students to feel comfortable talking with a teacher or administrator at their school about matters such as bullying, but we know that is not always the case,” Phipps, who is also a former school psychologist, explained. “Understanding that led us to implement additional ways of reporting such issues.

“Students should feel confident that they have the right to speak up, that it is okay to say they don’t want crime, drugs or other problems on their school campus,” Phipps said.

According to DHHS, parents can help prevent bullying by talking to their children about it and encouraging them to seek help when they are being bullied or see others being mistreated. But the main way in which DHHS says the harmful behavior can be eradicated is through community effort — adults and students alike working together to build a culture of respect for every student.

Phipps said communication is the main factor in preventing bullying in Beaufort County Schools.

“I encourage parents to keep those lines of communication as open as possible,” Phipps said. “If you see or hear things that trouble you, we encourage you to contact the administrator or counselors at your child’s school.”