NEW BLOOMFIELD — A panel explained the options a parent and child may have at school and in the legal system in situations that involve bullying.
Doug Hennon, a lawyer and partner with Carson and Coil explained when it comes to bullying, criminal laws could apply.
"There are criminal laws dealing with harassment, assault," Hennon explained. He alluded the first steps would usually involve education laws.
"In the last few years they've continued to develop those laws and change the definitions," Ty Crain, Fulton Public Schools Assistant Superintendent said. "But we do have laws that directly relate to bullying and defining that within how it would work within our schools," he added.
Chad Rose, an associate professor at the University of Missouri's Department of Special Education, shared his expertise on the matter.
Rose said all 50 states have laws specific to bullying in K-12 education.
"Our law is interesting because it requires schools to do training of adults in the buildings that come into contact or work directly with students," he said. "Our law is pretty comprehensive," Rose said.
He explained Missouri law requires schools to have programming in place to support the development of students and prevent bullying.
Rose explained bullying is spreading, and sometimes kids take matters into their own hands.
"We would prefer that they go report bullying if that's happening," Rose said. "Bullying is pervasive."
He said he works with kids to make sure they're developing critical response skills to know what to do in bullying situations.
"We teach kids what to do, what to say and who to tell," he said. "What to do often varies depending on the situation."
He explained kids are taught a few options. Standing up for themselves and being assertive is one option, but students are also taught to get their peers and bring them in for help or to work with adults.
"But ultimately, it depends on what the school policy says," Rose added.
Rose said the prevalence of bullying is 20 percent in Missouri schools.
"That means students are reporting pretty high rates of victimization," Rose explained.
With bullying reports on the rise, parents are seeking legal and administrative guidance.
"If it's a parent seeking help on behalf of their child most of the time the advice is to help them deal with the school," Hennon said was his usual legal insight.
He said in his career, he's advised parents on bullying situations fairly often.
"I've also represented individuals who were charged with crimes for one reason or another that relate to their actions at school and towards other students," he said. "That for me is more common than dealing with the parents."
Crain explained when bullying is ever reported at a school, he and his team begins an investigation.
"[We] find out as best we can what is taking place and then depending on whether it was harassment or bullying, if it comes to the degree with fault within the statute, we report it to law enforcement," Crain said.
He said if school administrators have determined the gravity of the issue to be serious and should be resolved by law enforcement, parents can press charges or law enforcement can decide to address the issue from a criminal standpoint.
Rose chimed in with explain that such protocols are part of Missouri law.
He explained once principals and administrators are made aware of a bullying issue, they have two days to file a formal report. After filing a report, they have 10 days to open and close an investigation.
"Part of some of the legal consequences may come within that 10-day investigation," he said.
The experts said social media has affected bullying and the protocols surrounding it.
"Kids can't escape it," Rose said about social media's role in bullying. "It no longer begins and ends with school bells."
He said because of social media, kids experience bullying in different formats. He said sometimes bullying is anonymous because of social media, and sometime's it isn't/
"The one thing I'm hearing a lot from kids is that they can't escape it," he said. "They get bullied at school and they get bullied online."
"All hours of the day and night," Hennon chimed in.
Crain said because bullying can happen at any time and in some ways in different form, it makes it difficult for administrators to address the issue within the guidelines already outlined in state law.
"One of the challenges we face is that it may start Friday night, go on Saturday, into Sunday and the first time we find out about it is on Monday morning," Cain said. "And then with the laws written the way they are sometimes that becomes a school issue even though it occurred outside of school."
And with bullying being possible in the overnight hours and on the weekend, there's few options to turn to where the bully can receive consequences.
"A lot of the times, we're the ones it gets reported to," Cain said.
"I think sometimes teenagers feel as if they are anonymous or as if they are somewhat protected," Hennon said.
"But the damage to the person receiving the bullying is very real and can be very traumatic."