Published 7 January 2019, The Daily Tribune
School is our children’s second home. But this second home can easily turn into hell when bullying happens to students. Indeed, the recent incident at the one of the leading schools in the country reveals just how serious a problem bullying can be. As concerned parents, what can we expect from schools to prevent or address bullying? What are our legal remedies if our children get bullied in school?
Republic Act No. 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 defines bullying as any severe or repeated use by a student of a written, verbal, or electronic expression, or a physical act or gesture against another student that has any of the following effects:
- actually causing reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to his property;
- creating a hostile environment at school for the other student;
- infringing on the rights of the other student at school; or
- materially and substantially disrupting the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
This definition of bullying is expansive enough to cover acts that occur at a location, activity, function, or program that is not school-related or committed through the use of technology. For instance, cyber-bullying comes under the purview of the law even if it is committed outside the school or through a private electronic device. Aside from cyber-bullying, the law enumerates other examples of bullying, such as:
- unwanted physical contact like punching, pushing, inflicting school pranks, and fighting;
- acts that cause damage to the psyche or emotional well-being; and
- slanderous statement that causes undue emotional distress, such as using profanities, name-calling, commenting negatively on victim’s looks, clothes and, body.
Duty of schools to prevent or address bullying
The Anti-Bullying Act requires all elementary and secondary schools to adopt policies to address the existence of bullying. Copies of the anti-bullying policies must be provided to students and their parents or guardians. Moreover, schools are mandated to form a Child Protection Committee (CPC), which shall also serve as the Anti-Bullying Committee. The CPC is responsible for implementing the school’s anti-bullying policies and monitoring cases of bullying.
These policies must prescribe commensurate disciplinary penalties for various acts of bullying. The policies should also contain a clear procedure for reporting and investigating bullying incidents, including a mechanism for anonymous reporting as well as the protection of the person who reported the bullying. The law also mandates the inclusion of rehabilitation program for the perpetrator and counseling for the victims and his family. To ensure that only real bullying incidents are investigated, the policies must include as well disciplinary penalty for knowingly making a false accusation of bullying.
Failure to comply with these requirements will subject the school and its personnel to administrative sanctions. For public schools, the concerned personnel will be dealt with administratively under pertinent civil service rules. For private schools, failure to comply is a ground for suspension or revocation of the permit or recognition of the school.
Aside from these administrative liabilities, the schools, their administrators, and teachers may also be held liable for civil damages. Under Article 218 of the Family Code, schools, their administrators, and teachers exercise special parental authority over their minor students. As such, any tort committed by their minor students, including bullying, may be attributed to them if by their negligence, they fail to prevent the same.
Handling bullying incidents
The victim, the witness, or any person having personal knowledge of the bullying incident must call the attention of any school personnel. The school personnel notified must immediately intervene by stopping the bullying, separating the students involved, and ensuring the safety of the victim. He must also bring the offending student to the guidance office or the designated school personnel.
An investigation on the incident must be launched and the Anti-Bullying Committee shall craft the appropriate intervention measures. This can include referring the incident to trained professionals, such as psychologists and social workers, or to the Women and Children’s Protection Desk of the Philippine National Police if a crime has probably been committed by the offending student.
Note that in the course of these proceedings, the identity and personal circumstances of the bully, victim, or bystander must be kept confidential. Any school personnel who breaches the confidentiality of these proceedings should be dealt with administratively.
Bullying is a complex issue. The fact that we have a legal framework to deal with bullying is just the first step to addressing it. Ultimately, a loving home might just do more to prevent bullying than any of our laws ever can.
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