National Bullying Prevention Month may be ending, but Indianapolis Public Schools continues to be committed to resolving bullying situations for everyone involved—the victims, the witnesses, and even the bullies themselves. A look into a few recent bullying situations shows just how.

In one situation, a third-grade boy persistently called a girl names and interfered with her work, all to make her cry. When she did, he would taunt her by calling her “baby.”

In this case, though the bully was addressed, it was the victim, broken down by the bully’s treatment, who needed the most support. The social worker at the school gave her helpful strategies and positive words to stand up for herself. She told the girl to say, “Does it make you feel good to put others down?” and to say it “with attitude.” That made the girl smile. She practiced it, with attitude, and her mood brightened.

“Just giving target words is empowering,” the social worker said.

Another incident involved the same bully. This time while he was taunting a girl, another boy told him to leave the girl alone. The bully knocked the boy who spoke up to the ground. Both student and staff were witnesses, and there was physical evidence. The case was presumably clear.

However, investigating the bully’s habit of unpredictable behavior prompted the social worker and principal not just to punish, but to look deeper. They referred the bully’s family to Midtown Community Mental Health and turned to Kaleidoscope for behavioral help.

“Bullies bully for a reason. The investigation is partially to help find out why,” the social worker said.

When staff remain open during the investigation, the process helps clarify what is an emotional situation for all involved. The investigation of a recent cyberbullying incident uncovered one of the bullies was actually a witness. The target claimed two bullies had been calling him names and threatening him on Instagram. Those bullies then began to pick on the target at school.

During the investigation, the bullies claimed the target was the aggressor. The target signed on to Instagram and showed the threats and name-calling. The investigation showed the second bully was a bystander, a witness who played along with the bully instead of standing up and telling him to stop.

Similarly, shy witnesses were drawn out by the investigation in an incident where a sixth-grade student was pushed and knocked over by two other students in a bathroom. The target was a shy student while the aggressors were more popular. The principal and social worker interviewed several parties who witnessed the incident while the bullies denied the allegations.

The witnesses at first denied they saw anything. However, once interviewed separately, they each provided information. Initially, they were afraid of what the bullies would do to them, but the investigation process gave them time and opportunity to reconsider.

“Witnesses now feel more empowered to speak to adults, but not necessarily to stand up to the bully,” one social worker said.

Clearly, with witnesses still conflicted about getting involved, there’s still work to be done in bullying education. But the IPS bullying investigation process allows IPS staff to conduct well-rounded analyses of the roles of all students involved and begin to address their needs.

IPS strives to reduce bullying one victim, one witness, and one bully at a time.