When is it a Conflict and When is it Harassment, Intimidation and/or Bullying (HIB) Expert Article

The classification of an event as either a “conflict” or an act of bullying (HIB) is frequently contended in legal disputes as it impacts the way in which educators and administrators respond to a situation. In this article, former teacher and school principal, Marion McGrath provides an overview of how the determination is made between a conflict and a bullying incident.

Distinguishing an Incident as a Conflict or Bullying

There is a difference between a conflict and Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB). The two vary in terms of 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. Things may escalate in conflicts to include physicality or name calling.

HIB is one sided, an imbalance of power or strength (whether it be real or perceived) and involves the targeting of one or more students by one or more individuals. It can cause physical or emotional harm to the target perpetrated by one party against a less powerful individual who has trouble defending her/himself. The incident is 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. The motivation is a key factor in determining whether an incident is classified as a conflict or HIB.

There are different types of bullying:

  • Physical (more typical of males)
  • Verbal
  • Social/Relational (more typical of females)
  • Cyber

Bullying (HIB) Intervention Programs

Bullying is a problem that occurs in schools and the social environment as a whole. The bully’s aggression often occurs when teachers and parents are generally unaware of the problems and often other students are either reluctant to get involved or simply do not know how to react or help the victims. Therefore effective interventions must involve the entire school community rather than focus on the perpetrators and victims alone. Proactive approaches that involve interventions at the school, class and individual levels to reduce bullying should include the development of whole-school bullying policies, implementation of curricular measures that empower students through conflict resolution, peer counseling and assertiveness training, and improvement of the school ground environment.

In addition, the importance of clear and defined “Codes of Conduct” will allow students, parents and the community to understand the schools’ rules and expectations, as well as, the methods used by the school to enforce the behavioral expectations set forth in the schools code.

Investigating Incidents of Bullying

Robson Forensic Inc. can assist in litigation matters to determine and identify the nature of the conflict, harassment, bullying or intimidation, 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.

Featured Expert

Marion R. McGrath, School Administration Expert

Marion R. McGrath

School Administration Expert
Marion McGrath is a supervision / educational expert with a diverse background in elementary and secondary education. She has twenty-seven years of working experience as a teacher, adjunct professor,… read more.

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