Fear Your Bullies


LeBlanc, Charles. “Bully.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 28 Jan. 2009, www.flickr.com/photos/httpoldmaisonblogspotcom/3234265624.

Early in 2018, according to ABC11 News, a student named Austin John was recorded standing up for his friend, Griffin. Griffin had been teased and punched multiple times by two students. Instead of fighting back, Griffin did what any school administration would have wanted him to do: walk away. Instead of letting up, his bullies simply followed him, continuing to relentlessly punch him. It wasn’t until Austin stepped in and hit one of the students that they ceased their attack, and Griffin could get away.

Austin was promptly suspended and charged in court for simple assault. The charge was shortly dropped, but the damage had already been done. Austin will now have a suspension permanently burned into his record–all because he stood up for his friend.

This all took place in North Carolina, however. So why does a story like this matter to our Air Academy High School students?

The school Austin attends uses a zero tolerance policy, which means that no matter what the cause, if someone engages in an activity the school finds displeasing, they will be reprimanded. This type of policy is widely used throughout other American public schools, which include AAHS.

According to our student handbook, “All types of bullying are unacceptable. “Bullying” is defined in district policy JICDE and state law as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental, or emotional harm to any student.” This means that with the zero tolerance policy, if a student engages in any conflict, even in self defense, they are defined as a “bully.”

So why does standing up to a bully make you one, especially when AAHS so adamantly encourages students to stand up against bullying? This dilemma is highly hypocritical and without a doubt, frustrates students and parents.

A large argument that is made by school leaders is that students can stand up to bullies in a way that does not support violence or negative words, such as telling a teacher, walking away, or even politely telling the bully to stop. However, these methods are typically ineffective.

Talking to a teacher rarely dissuades the antagonist from their actions. Most situations result in the teacher simply telling the bully to stop, or will sometimes give them detention–which is just as useful. In a Forbes article with Dr. Ruth Payne, Payne claims that giving students detention or any other time consuming punishment has little-to-no effect on their behaviors. Once their time in detention is up, they’ll only resume their belligerent actions.

Telling a teacher also has a chance to escalate the bullying. In the story earlier about Austin and Griffin, Griffin was reportedly getting punched because he had “snitched” on the people attacking him. If someone is picked on and decides to tell a teacher, chances are the teacher will give the bully a mild punishment. Afterwards, they’ll only target the victim more relentlessly.

Walking away is not only useless but can be dangerous. According to an article published by The Sun, a 13-year-old boy was put into a coma after an attack from his bullies, who had delivered multiple devastating punches to his head. The article states that the boy had not once removed his hands from his pockets during his attack, and simply walked away. Walking away also shows weakness. Animalistically, retreating is a sign of submission, and it will undoubtedly be used against the victim in later encounters with the bullies which are bound to occur.

When the school’s policies and punishments fail to save a student from bullying, the student will have two choices: Stand up for themselves, or take the beating. The American public school’s zero tolerance policy fails the students when it punishes taking the former. Giving a victim the same punishment as their abuser teaches them to not only fear their bullies, but also to fear the school.

When asked if, in a fight, he would fear the bully or the school more, AAHS Senior Sebastian Escalante gave a thought provoking answer. “Although I would be afraid of both, I’d be more afraid of the school,” said Escalante. 

“In a personal fight, the worst you could get is a bruise, but even in self defense the school will just suspend you or expel you.”

If this is the case, then why do so many public schools keep this policy? A common theory is it’s because schools are too afraid of being sued by the parents and guardians of students involved in fights, senior Jade Kennard contributes to this. “It’s because they’re prioritizing their legal liability over the well-being of their students.”

The zero tolerance policy is with good intent, whether it be out of fear of legalities or for the health and morale of the students. However, it has proven to be an unfair system of justice in which the victim is portrayed in the same light as the perpetrator. It discourages the simple act of defending another human being or even one’s self. A student should never have to choose between a black eye or a suspension.