Bullying

Polk County Public Schools is committed to providing a safe learning environment that is free from bullying and harassment. The FAQs below provide definitions of both bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment that disrupts the educational setting will not be tolerated.

Students, parents, guardians, volunteers and other concerned individuals with knowledge of these incidents should submit a report in writing at the link below and/or contact the school administration immediately.

All school employees are required to report alleged violations. Reports can be made anonymously. Every reported act of bullying or harassment will be investigated and parents will be informed of the outcome.

Need Help?

If you’re unsure if you or your child is being bullied, the following checklist can help. All items must be answered “yes” for behavior to be considered bulling or harassment. If you answer “yes” to all items, please report the behavior immediately.

  • Was the behavior negative or malicious?

    If you answered no: Remember that sometimes, harmful behavior is an accident or unintentional. Students need to apologize and make amends.

  • Did the behavior happen more than once?

    If you answered no: Students may need additional instruction and direction for behavior correction.

  • Did the incident occur on school property, at a school event, on the school bus or at the bus stop?

    If you answered no: Law enforcement should be contacted to report neighborhood conflicts or other off-campus issues.

  • Did the behavior disrupt the learning environment?

    If you answered no: You are indicating that the student or students continue doing well academically, is attending school, and does not feel harmed or threatened, therefore student safety is not an issue.

  • Is there an imbalance in strength or power, or an attempt to create an imbalance?

    If you answered no: Peer conflicts, competition and rivalries are normal parts of student growth and development. School staff can assist with this if necessary.

Your concerns are important, even if the behavior does not constitute bullying or harassment. Please contact your school administration, guidance counselor or teacher, or the Polk County Public Schools Bullying Prevention Team if you need additional support. Threats of physical harm should be reported to law enforcement immediately.

The following FAQs will provide you with additional information related to bullying and harassment.

Bullying Frequently Asked Questions

What is bullying?

Bullying occurs when one person systematically and chronically inflicts physical injury or psychological distress on another person. It is defined as any unwanted and repeated written, verbal, emotional or sexual aggression or physical behavior, including any offensive, threatening, insulting or dehumanizing gesture, by an adult or student, that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment, cause discomfort or humiliation, or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation. Bullying can also take place online; in those cases, it is called cyberbullying.

What is harassment?

Bullying rises to the level of unlawful harassment when a person or group of people systematically and chronically inflicts physical injury or psychological distress on another person or group of people, and the bullying targets a characteristic that is protected by federal civil rights laws, such as sex, race, color, national origin, religion, or disability.

It is defined as any unwanted and repeated written, verbal or physical behavior, including any threatening, insulting, or dehumanizing gesture, by an adult or student, that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment, cause discomfort or humiliation, or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation.

Are there different types of bullying?

Yes, bullying can be cyber, physical, social or verbal. Cyberbullying or cyberstalking involves using the internet, cell phones or other digital technologies to bully others. Physical bullying would include actions such as hitting, pushing or spitting. Examples of social bullying are spreading rumors or leaving people out of groups or activities. Verbal bullying would include name-calling, teasing, making threats, or saying insulting things to others.

What are the signs/or symptoms that my child is being bullied?

If your child is being bullied, you might notice any of the following signs:

  • Loss of interest in school work.
  • Decline in academic performance.
  • Sudden fear of going to school, taking the school bus, or participating in after-school activities.
  • He/she begins taking a different route to or from school.
  • Frequent complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or other physical ailments.
  • Decline in social interaction.

What are some of the characteristics of students who are typically victims of bullying?

Students who are typically the victims in bullying situations often:

  • Have physical traits that make them targets, such as being exceptionally tall or overweight.
  • Have disabilities or conditions such as ADHD or autism.
  • Have difficult social or emotional circumstances, such as being homeless.
  • Are of races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, or sexual orientations different from those of their bully.

How prevalent is bullying?

Research shows that 160,000 students each day miss school for fear of being bullied. One in three students say they have been bullied at school. Only one in three victims tells an adult about bullying. Bullying can happen anywhere — on the school bus, at sporting events, at after-school programs, etc.

What are the effects of bullying?

  • Targets of bullying often have academic, health, behavioral and emotional issues.
  • Bullies are more likely not to follow rules and disrupt school.
  • Bystanders often feel guilt, stress and anxiety if nothing is done to address the bullying situation.

What should parents do if they suspect their child is being bullied?

Parents should try to get their children to talk about what is happening in their lives. Ask questions such as:

  • What happened?
  • Has this happened before?
  • Did you tell an adult?
  • Did anyone try to help you?

It’s also important that parents remain calm and reassure their child that they are doing the right thing about talking about the bullying incident. Remain calm, explain to your child the difference between “tattling” and “telling” because they need help. Then contact your school administrators to file a report in person or via phone, or online via bullying.polk-fl.net/. Finally, talk to your child about what would help him/her feel safe, and use what you learn to plan next steps.

How do I report bullying?

Reports of bullying can be made online at bullying.polk-fl.net. Principals receive an automatic email notification when online bullying reports are made. Bullying may also be reported by contacting school administrators by phone or in person. If reporting in person, you will complete a bullying and/or harassment form.

What happens after I report a bullying incident?

School administrators will acknowledge receipt of your bullying report within three school days. A preliminary review of the incident may be conducted to determine if an investigation is needed. If an investigation is needed, it will be completed within 10 school days. Parents of both the bully and his/her target will be notified. Action plans will be developed for both the bully and the victim.

What are the options for resolving a bullying situation?

At the school level, options for resolving bullying situations include changing students’ schedules, pairing the targeted student with another child who does not support bullying, referring students to counselors to help them learn effective coping skills, having students check-in/check-out with a trusted adult, creating a “Stay Away” agreement, and providing additional education for students.

How can I teach my child to help prevent bullying?

Children can play an important role in bullying prevention. Here are some ways parents can help their children stand up against bullying:

  • Tell your child to tell the bully to “stop” if he/she feels safe doing so.
  • Empathize with your child and reassure him/her that the bully is wrong.
  • Encourage your child to help victims of bullying walk away from the bullying situation.
  • Encourage your child to support bullying victims by standing next to them.
  • Tell your child to go to a trusted adult if he/she feels it would be unsafe to intervene.
  • Children should always immediately go to an adult if a weapon is involved in bullying.

Bystanders can be powerful forces in preventing and ending bullying. Research shows that in more than half the incidences, bullying stops within 10 seconds when a bystander chooses to step in and help. Targets of bullying report that bystanders who intervene are more helpful than support from teachers or standing up to the bully alone.

What is cyberbullying/cyberstalking?

Cyberbullying/cyberstalking includes, but is not limited to, using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones to communicate words, images or language directed at specific people for the purposes of doing harm.

How can I help if my child is being bullied online?

Do not respond to online bullies. Instead, save or take screenshots of emails or messages. Delete and block the offender and log off the site where the bullying is taking place. Immediately report the bullying incident to your school officials in person or via phone, or file an online report at bullying.polk-fl.net/. You should also contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Safe Schools Division at 863-534-7309.

What services does the Bullying Prevention Team provide?

For parents, the Bullying Prevention Team offers support in meetings, resources and presentations. For students, the team offers follow-up interventions for perpetrators and victims, social skills “lunch bunch” groups, and lunchtime presentations and interactions.

Are there online resources to help my child with bullying-related issues?

The following resources have been compiled to help parents and children identify, discuss, prevent and recover from bullying.

Who should I contact with a bullying concern?

The following document provides contact information for the school district’s bullying prevention social workers. Students, parents, guardians, volunteers and other concerned individuals with knowledge of bullying incidents should report incidents immediately.

Social Workers Contact Information

What should parents DO to help encourage positive behavior and prevent bullying?

Teach your children the “three be’s”:

  • Be kind, which means cooperating with others and having a positive attitude.
  • Be generous, which means giving your best effort and striving for success.
  • Be brave, which means acting responsibly, respecting yourself and others, and encouraging others to do better.

What should parents NOT DO if they suspect their child is a victim of bullying?

  • Do not ignore the problem.
  • Do not blame the child.
  • Do not suggest that the child “fight back.”
  • Do not confront other students or their parents/caregivers.