The Hilliard school district uses the Ohio Revised Code's definition of bullying and hazing, and if any incident involving students meets the criteria of bullying, parents or guardians of all children involved are required to be notified, said Amanda Morris, spokeswoman for Hilliard City Schools.
But if an incident is a first-time encounter of two or more students, it does not meet the criteria of bullying, Morris said, and the district wants the ability to handle each isolated incident in a manner deemed most appropriate. That could mean the parents or guardians of students involved would not be notified.
"There are so many factors," Morris said, adding that district officials take into account what is best for the students.
The mother of a Memorial Middle School student recently criticized the district for not immediately informing her that her son had been physically assaulted at school Oct. 5.
She told board members Oct. 22 that another student had choked her son and that she did not find out about it until 10 days later. She asked for a policy change requiring the notification of parents involved in any incident where physical contact is made.
A written incident report was prepared Oct. 5, but the incident was not classified as bullying. The teacher observing the incident referred to it as "kids clowning around," according to the report obtained from Hilliard City Schools.
The report did say a "choking hold" was used on the victim, and noted that the alleged perpetrator eventually was assigned to a different class.
The mother told school board members she learned of the incident Oct. 15 at an Individualized Education Program meeting with the same teacher who observed the incident.
Morris said the students' IEP status was a factor in how the incident was handled, and the absence of numerous administrators because of a school trip to Washington, D.C., prevented it from being addressed as quickly as it might have otherwise.
She said there also is disagreement concerning the severity of the incident.
"(The parent and the district) had numerous communications (between Oct. 15 and 22)," Morris said. "The teacher's verbal description and what was told (to the building principal) is different than what was conveyed at the (Oct. 22) board meeting."
She said the discrepancy is between what the teacher said in the report and what the mother said at the board meeting. The mother said she was conveying what the teacher told her at the Oct. 15 IEP conference.
Another key point, Morris said, is that the incident was the first documented issue between the students, and as such is not considered bullying, according to Ohio Revised Code.
The code defines bullying as "any intentional written, verbal, electronic or physical act that a student has exhibited toward another particular student more than once." The behavior "causes mental or physical harm to the other student" and "is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for the other student."
The mother alluded to possible bullying, telling the school board that her son and his teacher indicated he previously had been teased in the classroom, sometimes by the same student who allegedly grabbed his neck. The written report also said the issue was not the first between the students.
But Morris said "the ORC bullying policy requires two documented incidents and this incident was (the teacher's) first documentation that was sent to the office."
Morris said the district needs flexibility in handling incidents that do not constitute bullying or hazing as defined by Ohio Revised Code guidelines.
"Proscribing a set policy to follow in every incident does not provide the flexibility to find that best solution," Morris said. "If there is a pattern, we look at it through one lens, but if it is uncharacteristic, we want to know what changed ... why it happened. ... We want to learn why (and we) want the flexibility to find a best solution."