Thousands of students in the Pine Belt head to school every week, faced with tests, activities and friends. Unfortunately, many may also face a bully.
Nationally, 28% of students in grades 6–12 have experienced bullying. Over 70% of young people and staff have seen bullying in their schools.
"Bullying is an issue that has been for many, many generations and it's sad," said Wayne Folkes, Assistant Superintendent for the Lamar County School District. "It can be a social aspect of it, it can be a verbal or it can be a physical."
The term bullying can be used frequently, but it's important to identify the problem. For local school districts, bullying is openly defined as a pattern of incidents involving individuals.
"There is poor student conduct, which could be a single, isolated incident," said Andy Schoggin, Chief Operating Officer for the Petal School District. "There is bullying, which is a pattern of incidents, which it impedes a student's educational attainment."
But what if the bullying is at the bus stop? That question has been brought to WDAM 7 News by concerned parents.
"It started here actually, and then escalated to the school," said Victoria Grey, who met me at her children's old bus stop in Forrest County.
"You don't want to send them to a bus stop when you have a group waiting at a bus stop for them," said Gray. "It's like putting them in harms way and then they tell you, we can't do something unless something happens. So it's like, let them fight."
Grey said the issues at the bus stop were picked up and then dropped off on campus at Forrest County Agricultural High School. That is where her daughter got into a serious incident and was expelled. Grey believes that may not be the case if something was done at the bus stop when she reported it to administrators.
"You hear a lot of kids getting bullied and then nothing is being done," Grey said. "So, I mean, then you got a parent telling you what's going on, trying to get some help and you can't get any help so, I don't understand."
In a statement about how the district handles incidents at bus stops, Forrest County Agricultural High School Superintendent Dr. Donna Boone said:
"Violation of the student code of conduct while waiting for the bus (bus stop) is subject to the school discipline ladder which includes bullying.
We take each report of bullying seriously. We follow our bullying policy and procedures when bullying is reported."
"What do you do as a parent though? You're trying to protect your kids, you're trying to not break the law. What do you do?" Grey asked.
The answer I got from Pine Belt School Districts: document it, even if the situation may not be technically on school property. That means the bus stop could be a "grey" area.
"Does that bullying affect that child's education? Or was this in a neighborhood where these two kids, apart from school, were at each other?" Folkes said about the potential investigation into a report.
"If they are bullying each other outside of school, it doesn't effect their schooling or anything like that. That's when the parents have to work that out with the other parents and if they have to get law enforcement, they can do that also," said Folkes.
Folkes said any report of bullying is investigated by the Lamar County School District, which includes situations on the bus or at a bust stop. Same goes for the Petal School District.
"Whether you are coming to school or leaving school, it's part of your school day," said Andy Schoggin, Chief Operating Officer for the Petal School District.
"There are incidents that we've had to deal with things at the bus stop," said Schoggin. "We have to take into account of things that happen in the community. Whether or not they are actually on our physical presence, we have to look at does that impact what happens in the school day."
That's the route for the Hattiesburg Public School District, as well. In Jones County, the district's transportation handbook states students will face disciplinary action if they "molest or bother in any way - harass, intimidate or threaten, other students while waiting for or while riding the school bus."
The same wording is used in the Wayne County School District's handbook, where students could face different violations based on the level of the incident.
But in Forrest County, the school district's bus contract states parents have the responsibility of supervising the students until they board the bus in the morning and after they leave the bus at the end of the day. The contract states the principal is responsible for disciplining students reported by the driver.
"There's always an interdependence of school and community, I don't think there is ever a true separation. We have to take all of those things into consideration," said Schoggin. "We've been at bus stops before with our students. Not necessarily because of safety precautions, but because we like to monitor traffic, we like to see patterns, we like to see what's going on."
In Lamar County, efforts to "stomp out bullying" have been successful. Folkes showed me a significant drop in investigations throughout the school district, from 136 in the '14-'15 school year to 53 last year. There have been 14 bullying investigations so far this school year.
"If it occurs off campus and maybe it may not be us," said Folkes. "If we can show that we care about that child, that child has a safe place and they will feel more confident and we hope that things that are negative won't occur from that."
Grey, whose children now go to school in a different district, said she would like to see officers at bus stops, if necessary.
Folkes said in Lamar County, there have been instances where there may be an extra rider or someone to monitor a situation, but "to have every bus stop that we pick up in Lamar County and have a school resource officer there, that'd be very difficult."
District officials stress the need to "see something, say something." In some situations, parents may not ever be made aware the bullying is going on, so reporting an issue is the first step to a possible solution.
You can find more details on bullying prevention or intervention here.