Florida has laws against school hazing and bullying. What they say and how to get help

Florida has laws against school hazing and bullying. What they say and how to get help

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The Viera High School football team in Brevard County, Florida is facing an uncertain season and other repercussions after a video apparently featuring members of the football team hazing other players went public.

An email from Brevard Public Schools superintendent Mark Rendell to Florida Today on Sunday confirmed the incident as “hazing” and noted that varsity and junior varsity activities have been suspended until further notice. Players will be required to take part in an anti-hazing educational program, and there will be “a parent-player team meeting to begin the process of improving team culture and raising expectations.”

The video depicts team members simulating sex acts with each other. According to reports, the team’s head coach Shane Staples was relieved of his duties until further notice, and an undisclosed number of players were suspended as a result of the BPS investigation.

What exactly is hazing? And is it similar to bullying that we’ve seen in school? Here’s what you should know.

Viera football hazing scandal: Viera football coach Shane Staples suspended along with team activities in ‘hazing’ incident

What is hazing?

Per Florida Statutes, the term “hazing” means any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for purposes including, but not limited to:

  • Initiation into any organization operating under the sanction of a postsecondary institution
  • Admission into any organization working under the sanction of a postsecondary institution
  • Affiliation with any organization working under the sanction of a postsecondary institution
  • The perpetuation or furtherance of a tradition or ritual of any organization operating under the sanction of a postsecondary institution

There are three forms of hazing —  “subtle” hazing, “harassment” hazing, and “violent” hazing. Examples of each hazing include:

  • Subtle – Wearing specific clothing, name-calling, tests on meaningless information
  • Harassment – Verbal abuse, threats, sleep deprivation, degrading acts
  • Violent – Binge-drinking or drug consumption, branding or burning, eating gross things

What is bullying?

Per Florida Statutes, bullying is the systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students or employees that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment; or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation.

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Examples of bullying include:

  • Cyberbullying, which is bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication
  • Teasing
  • Social exclusion
  • Threat
  • Intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Physical violence
  • Theft
  • Sexual, religious, or racial harassment
  • Public or private humiliation

How do hazing and bullying differ from each other?

While hazing and bullying may look similar, they have different meanings. Bullying usually refers to aggressive behavior among school-age children that is repeated over time and is intended to cause harm whereas hazing is defined by its relationship to joining or maintaining membership within a group, club, or team.

A way to distinguish hazing from bullying is that hazing typically occurs for the expressed purpose of inclusion whereas youth who bully generally are seeking to exclude and marginalize another child, violence prevention organization StopHazing said.

What are the effects of hazing and bullying on a victim?

Both hazing and bullying can cause long-term mental health problems to victims, seeing symptoms such as:

  • Extreme stress
  • Forced exclusion from social contact
  • Embarrassment or humiliation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Depending on the extent of the hazing or bullying, victims can also have physical or internal injuries. Broken bones, blunt-force trauma and brain injuries have been some of the major injuries reported in the past.

What Florida legislation is in place to prevent hazing and bullying?

Hazing

House Bill 193, known as the Chad Meredith Act, went into effect in 2005 and increased criminal offenses specific to hazing at the high school or college level. According to Florida State University, the bill outlines that:

  • People commit hazing, a third-degree felony, when they intentionally or recklessly commit any act against another person who is a member of or an applicant to any type of student organization, and the hazing results in serious bodily injury or death. When hazing is charged as a third-degree felony, the crime is punishable by up to 5 years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
  • People also commit hazing, a first-degree misdemeanor, when they intentionally or recklessly commit any act against another person who is a member of or an applicant to any type of student organization and the hazing creates a substantial risk of physical injury or death to such other person. When hazing is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail and a $1,000 fine.

It is not a defense to a charge of hazing that:

  • The consent of the victim had been obtained;
  • The conduct or activity that resulted in the death or injury of a person was not part of an official organizational event or was not otherwise sanctioned or approved by the organization; or
  • The conduct or activity that resulted in the death or injury of the person was not done as a condition of membership to an organization.

What was Chad Meredith’s hazing story?

University of Miami student Chad Meredith returned from a concert in 2001 and began drinking with two Kappa Sigma members, a fraternity he wished to join. After several hours of drinking, they tried to swim across Lake Osceola near campus. Meredith had a blood alcohol level of 0.13. He drowned 34 feet away from shore in 6 feet 9 inches of water.

Although the fraternity officers protested that the incident was not a fraternity-sanctioned hazing event, a jury found otherwise, and awarded the deceased student’s family a $12.6 million verdict in a negligence suit based on hazing.

Bullying

Florida Statute 1006.147, also known as The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, requires school districts to adopt an official policy prohibiting bullying and harassment of students and staff on school grounds, at school-sponsored events, and through school computer networks.

District policies must be in substantial conformity with the Department of Education’s model policy and must contain key policy and procedural elements, including, but not limited to:

  • Statements prohibiting bullying and harassment;
  • Definitions of prohibited behavior;
  • Descriptions of the type of behavior expected from students and employees;
  • Disciplinary consequences for a student or employee who commits an act of bullying or harassment;
  • Procedures for reporting and investigations;
  • Procedures for parent notification and notification to all local agencies where criminal charges may be pursued;
  • Procedures for referring victims and perpetrators for counseling and regularly reporting to a victim’s parents any actions taken to protect the victim; and
  • Statements of how the policy will be publicized within the district.

Florida state law requires districts to review the policy at least once every three years. Districts must also establish a procedure for including incidents of bullying and harassment in school safety and discipline reporting.

What can I do if I’m being hazed or bullied?

Hazing

The National Anti-Hazing Hotline toll-free number is 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293). Each Florida university and college is required by state law to report hazing on its campus.

Bullying

If a student is being bullied, the law says they can contact a teacher, a school counselor, a school principal or dean, a school superintendent, or the State Department of Education. They can also reach out to the Florida Office of Safe Schools located in Tallahassee.

According to STOMP out bullying, further tips they recommend for reporting bullying:

  • Find out pertinent and detailed information about what the bullies are doing, dates, times, places, actions, etc. Document everything.
  • Contact the school during hours of operation and make an appointment with the principal for a face-to-face meeting.
  • Outline the details, not in an angry rant, but as if you were telling a friend what occurred.
  • Obtain a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policy to determine if the bully violated a school policy.
  • When you meet with the school principal, tell your child’s story and ask for help.
  • Follow up with your child to see if the bullying stops, and follow up with the principal.
  • If the harassment continues, document it. You may need to move up the chain of command, contacting the superintendent of schools, the board of education, or possibly even state and federal authorities.

How can I prevent hazing or bullying in the first place?

Florida laws require that all schools have hazing and bullying policies in place, including a definition, a statement, and consequences.

To further prevent both hazing and bullying, experts recommend educating students on what exactly these terms are and what to look out for. Teaching them at an early age about why these can be harmful and the importance of respecting others can help them form healthy relationships and good habits. It can be as simple as teaching younger kids to share toys to teaching older kids internet etiquette.

They also encourage keeping open lines of communication and allowing safe spaces for students to report incidents.

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