Conflict vs Bullying in Schools Expert Overview

The classification of an event as either a “conflict” or an act of bullying is frequently contended in legal disputes as it impacts the way in which educators and administrators respond to a situation. This article provides an overview of how the distinction is made between a conflict and a bullying incident.

School Harassment Intimidation Bullying Expert Witness

Distinguishing Conflict vs Bullying in Schools

There is a difference between conflict and bullying. The two vary in terms of frequency of the unwanted actions and the balance of power that exists among the parties involved. They also differ in terms of what motivates the aggressor, and how a school responds to the situation.

Conflict is characterized by a mutually competitive or opposing action or engagement. This can include disagreements, arguments, and fights between two people or two or more groups of people. The escalation of conflicts may include physicality or name calling, are typically one-time or infrequent events between the two parties, which can lead to avoidance between students and bullying if left unaddressed. 

Bullying is typically categorized as intentional, repeated, harmful acts in which an imbalance of power exists (whether it be real or perceived). It is typically perpetrated by one party against less powerful individual(s) who may have trouble defending themselves. 

The incidents may be motivated by any actual or perceived characteristics such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, or a mental, physical, or sensory disability. 

Bullying may take many forms. It can be physical, verbal, or social/relational. It may be done in person or using electronic means such as social media (cyber bullying). Because bullying is pervasive, it is very common for the perpetrator to bully the victim through multiple ways and means.

Bullying Intervention Programs

In school settings, the bully’s aggression often occurs when teachers and parents are generally unaware of the problems, and other students and school staff may be either reluctant to get involved or simply do not know how to react or help the victims. Therefore, effective, proactive interventions must involve the entire school community.

Districts must have bullying prevention policies in place and approved by their Board of School Directors or governing body. The district should have a specific definition of bullying within its policy as well as clearly defined ways to report such incidences. Finally, districts must identify steps to be taken to ensure a complete and thorough investigation of any incidents.

At the school level, it is critical that all staff receive training to be able to know the difference between bullying and conflict. It is also important they can recognize the signs of bullying and immediately take the actions required if bullying is observed or reported. Through a quick, immediate response, schools can demonstrate that bullying will be addressed and will not be tolerated.

Finally, students must receive developmentally appropriate training for their age group so they understand what bullying is and its impact on its victims. Schools may facilitate discussions with students through Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) programs and class meetings, educate students on how and where to report bullying, and encourage all students to report incidences of bullying to both a trusted adult at school and a trusted adult at home.

Districts and schools that take preventive measures and have well-articulated responses will be better positioned to mitigate bullying.

School Bullying Expert Witness Investigations

Robson Forensic can assist in litigation matters to determine and identify if the conflict rose to the level of bullying, and evaluate the adequacy of school policies and actions in response to the incident. We provide technical experts with professional experience as principals, administrators, teachers, professors, and coaches.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

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