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Community angered by bullying video

By Erin Dietzer/The Holland Sentinel • Feb 2, 2018 at 7:06 PM

HOLLAND — Community members are voicing serious concerns about bullying in schools after a video of a bullying incident at West Ottawa Public Schools surfaced on social media.

The incident took place on a West Ottawa school bus. The video shows a high school student repeatedly insulting a middle school student sitting on the opposite side of the aisle. The bully insults the victim’s weight, appearance, tells her she needs to shower and that she will never have a boyfriend. At one point, the bully also reaches over to pull the victim’s hair.

In the video, other students are heard giggling during the bullying, and neither students nor the bus driver are seen intervening.

The bully herself recorded and uploaded the video to social media. It’s not clear what day the video was recorded, though it became widespread on social media on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

The video was shared on several Facebook pages, and has received more than 113,000 views, 1,800 shares and many angry comments from students, parents and community members.

West Ottawa High School principal Todd Tulgetske sent a letter to parents about the incident on Thursday, Jan. 25, saying West Ottawa “monitors student behavior closely, and will hold students accountable to the fullest extent possible under board policy for bullying and aggressive behavior.”

West Ottawa defines bullying as “any written, verbal, or physical acts, including cyber bullying (i.e. any electronic communication, including, but not limited to electronically transmitted acts, such as internet, telephone or cell phone, personal digital assistant or wireless hand held device) that, without regard to its subject matter or motivating animus, is intended or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm one or more students either directly or indirectly.”

According to board policy, the punishment for bullying ranges, with expulsion as the highest possible punishment.

The student’s punishment in this case is not publicly known, as disciplinary records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. West Ottawa school officials declined to disclose further details about the incident.

“The West Ottawa Public Schools District is committed to creating a safe and nurturing educational environment for all of its students,” the district said in a statement. “As such, West Ottawa Board policy strictly prohibits bullying and other aggressive behavior. The district provides all students with bullying prevention curriculum and resources, and each of our schools engage students regularly on the topic of anti-bullying. The district is committed to continuing to raise awareness regarding bullying prevention, and those in violation of the Board policy on bullying will be disciplined in accordance with the policy. We encourage the community to join us in talking with students about bullying. We also ask that necessary repercussions be permitted to be handled by the District, and the student’s family.”

Many efforts have been underway in the district to combat bullying, particularly at the middle and high schools. The Harbor Lights Middle School student council recently launched the “You Make A Difference” anti-bullying campaign, and Macatawa Bay Middle School student leaders recently led an initiative for students to pledge not to name call.

At the high school, the anti-bullying curriculum is built by teachers based on student survey data on what students feel is needed and what they want to learn more about. The school devotes an entire day in October to addressing bullying, with mini lessons following through the rest of the school year.

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