Peer to peer crimes more common than reported bullying within Azusa Unified School District

Bullying has become a popular discussion recently, especially since the developing of technology has made it easier to bully through social media and instant messaging. In the Azusa Unified School District, bullying is taken very seriously, and has instituted policies so that such instances are lessened, however, the presence of peer to peer crime is significantly more common.

According to Gary Creel, the director of Child Welfare and Attendance for the AUSD, there are about 10,000 students who attend schools within the district.

Image: Josh Contreras, There are 17 schools in the Azusa Unified School District, 11 elementary, 3 middle schools, and 3 high schools. The high schools include one from Glendora, Azusa, and Covina.

Image: Josh Contreras, There are 17 schools in the Azusa Unified School District, 11 elementary, 3 middle schools, and 3 high schools. The high schools include one from Glendora, Azusa, and Covina.

Officer Roland Martinez, the Azusa High School resource officer from the Azusa Police Department, stated that bullying is usually not reported to the police. Officer Martinez has dealt with less than five bullying cases reported for the duration of his ten-month tenure as the school resource officer.

“For high schools, it doesn’t occur much. There are other things that happen on campus, one of the main things is theft of cell phones, skateboards, and sometimes bikes. As far as bullying being specifically reported to police, it’s rare,” said Officer Martinez. Martinez stated that bullying reports usually are taken through the administrative route.

Bullyingstatistics.org state that one out of every four students will experience bullying during adolescence.

John Magnusson, principle of Gladstone High School for 14 years, stated that there are reports of bullying about once a week. Many of the cases he deals with come from students who are uncomfortable with rude looks or social media posts. Threatening cases that are more serious, they arise once every couple months, according to Magnusson.

Magnusson talked about the process of handling situations of bullying, “When something like this happens, we listen to the victim and then go right to the alleged perpetrator. Sometimes, parents don’t want their children mentioned, but we are required to do something about the situation…because it also can be a false allegation. We have to be specific with the person and investigate it.”

Image: Josh Contreras, When a student feels they are a victim of bullying, they are encouraged to report it to the administrative authorities.

Image: Josh Contreras, When a student feels they are a victim of bullying, they are encouraged to report it to the administrative authorities.

Paul Naccachian, Azusa Unified School District Board of Education member, stated, “Our policies relating to anti-bullying is strongly responsive-preventive covering a wide spectrum of protection, inclusive of the LGBT, handicap, race, economically disadvantaged related bullying and so on. It encourages teachers, administrators or even students who may witness such behavior to report to the appropriate chain of command, whether principal or district administrator.”

When developing policies, Naccachian discussed the process in a three-step challenge that arises. They are development, implementation and preventive efforts.

“The model essentially requires [the board] to understand the scope of a problem, identify the key individuals who will pioneer the enforcement of a policy and to what extent education or training about the issue itself becomes a component to execute preventive measures. These are challenges the board has to consider,” stated Naccachian.

Child Welfare and Attendance director Creel discussed social media, and how it plays a significant role in bullying. “Developing technology has made it easier to bully someone and has depersonalized it. Policies and procedures have evolved to include “cyber-bullying,” said Creel. Director Creel also stated that cyber-bullying usually takes place off campus and outside the limitations placed by district rules.

Image: Josh Contreras, The Azusa Unified School District deals with bullying, and educates students not to harm their peers through bullying.

Image: Josh Contreras, The Azusa Unified School District deals with bullying, and educates students not to harm their peers through bullying.

According to the California School Board of Education, districts are required to educate students about bullying and social media ethics. Magnusson stated that schools in the Azusa Unified School District give students handbooks discussing this matter, and rather than convincing them not to bully other students, it warns them of the consequences.

Magnusson makes this point because during high school years, adolescents of this age have already begun solidifying who they are going to be. Therefore, trying to convince someone not to do something because it is not moral is not likely to prevent them from doing so, but perhaps presenting them with the possible consequences will, according to Magnusson.

Director Creel talked about the limitations of school intervention, “Students are accountable to school rules while at school, at a school activity, on school grounds, or when coming to or going from school. If a student is threatening or bullying another student outside of these parameters, the school has very little recourse.”

Image: Josh Contreras, California's education code protects students who are victims of bullying within the parameters of school activities, on school grounds, and walking to and from school. Outside of the parameters, schools have no authority in the conflict.

Image: Josh Contreras, California’s education code protects students who are victims of bullying within the parameters of school activities, on school grounds, and walking to and from school. Outside of the parameters, schools have no authority in the conflict.

Martinez believes social media makes bullying easier as well, but also stated that usually, these cases of student-to-student conflicts result in crimes committed against each other.

Martinez shared an instance where a peer to peer conflict brought about an altercation between students. “We had an incident the other day where there was a big group of people, and teachers walked out from inside the gym. There was about 20 kids who walked away, and there is one kid on the floor who lost consciousness after being struck during a fight. When he came to, he didn’t remember what happened,” said Martinez.

Officer Martinez said a teacher did some research on twitter, and found a video posted by another student which showed the fight was mutual.

According to Martinez, peer to peer crimes happen multiple times a day, including theft, fights, or harassment.

Robert Beltran, campus safety aid officer, stated this is much more common than bullying cases reported to them. Beltran said, “I think that repeat offenders should be dealt with more harshly then kids who have been in one fight or fight once a year. School policy usually refrains from suspending students, so I think policy should change for repeat offenders.”

Image: Josh Contreras, School resource officers and campus safety officers deal more with peer to peer conflicts on a daily basis than bullying cases.

Image: Josh Contreras, School resource officers and campus safety officers deal more with peer to peer conflicts on a daily basis than bullying cases.

Beltran believes that repeat offenders should be suspended because students who have been dealt with in this way in the past usually do not repeat the offense after being punished.

In the case of bullying, Martinez says that there needs to be a specific level of harassment that must be reached before police intervention or legal action is taken, should the need arise. Such evidence required includes recorded phone calls, text messages, saved voice mails.

Martinez says a common occurrence when bullying is reported is that students who reports that they are a victim of bullying often retaliate the harassment towards the instigator. It is essential in these conflicts that both sides of the story are told, says Martinez.

If however, the case is considered legitimate where the student is in fact a victim,  school resource officers are to ask whether or not the student wants to prosecute. Very rarely do students press charges against another student because usually the harassment ceases after Martinez warns the perpetrator that they can be prosecuted.

However, if it does reach that point where a student feels that they wish to report the case to the District Attorney, Officer Martinez says that is difficult for cases like these to ever go to court.

If there is enough evidence and they want to press charges, school officers are to write a report which is given to the Detective Bureau. Here, the case is reviewed and determines if there is enough to move forward with the case, which is then filed to the District Attorney’s office if it is believed to be a legitimate case.

“I can tell you that simple harassment, text messages, or annoying phone calls will probably not be filed. The DA will probably reject it. The only case where they might file for something like this is in the case where there is a bad separation between a husband and a wife where threats are involved,” said Martinez.

The reason why something like this would happen where bullying cases are rejected, is because they are much more complex situations and more difficult to prove, according to Martinez. Again, instances where students follow through with the prosecution process are rare.

“It’s one of the hardest cases to prosecute, but it does happen,” says Martinez.

If a person is found guilty in these cases, they would be charged with violations of Penal Codes 653 M or 422.

Penal Code 653 M states, “Every person who, with intent to annoy, telephones or makes contact by means of an electronic communication device with another and addresses to or about the other person any obscene language or addresses to the other person any threat to inflict injury to the person or property of the person addressed or any member of his or her family, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

PC 422 is charged to any person who is guilty of making a threat and has the ability to follow through with harming someone else, or causing damage to property equaling $1,000 or greater. This is a misdemeanor.

Students can also be guilty of PC 647, which is the use of a camera to invade another person’s privacy, also a misdemeanor.

If a student is affiliated to any case of bullying, counseling resources are available to both the victim of bullying as well as the person who has been identified as the bully, according to Sylvana Cavazos, the guidance program coordinator at Azusa Unified School District.

View a photo essay from last year about a transgender student’s experience below.

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