WE received an e-mail from a parent, asking the period within which a school should act on a complaint for bullying. The parent said that almost a month has passed since he filed his complaint on behalf of his child with the school principal, and the latter has not given him any feedback since the filing of said complaint.
Is the school principal handling the bullying complaint properly? The answer should be, “No.” One month is too long. The school principal is remiss in his duties, under our present law and rules on how to deal with child-bullying cases.
In our last column, we discussed the various acts that may constitute bullying (and cyber bullying). Allow us now to discuss the general guidelines and procedure in handling bullying incidents in schools.
We invite all our readers to check the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10627, otherwise known as the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, and DepEd Order 40, Series of 2012, also known as the DepEd Child Protection Policy, for them to have an idea how a bullying complaint should be handled.
Section 10 of the IRR of the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 provides among others the following:
Complaints of bullying and other acts under this IRR shall be within the exclusive jurisdiction of thedepartment or the private school, and shall not be brought for amicable settlement before the barangay. Complaints for acts covered by other laws shall be referred to the appropriate authorities.
• The following is the manner how a complaint for bullying may be reported: a) A victim or a bystander, or a school personnel who receives information of a bullying incident or retaliation, or any person, who witnesses or has personal knowledge of any incident of bullying, shall report the same to the teacher, guidance coordinator or counselor or any person designated to handle bullying incidents; b) The bullying incident shall be immediately reported to the school head. The designated school personnel shall fill out the Intake Sheet as provided in DepEd Order 40, series of 2012. The school head or the designated school personnel shall inform the parents or guardian of the victim and the bully about the incident; c) If an incident of bullying involves students from more than one school, the school that was first informed of the bullying or retaliation shall promptly notify the appropriate administrator or school head of the other school, so that both schools may take appropriate action; and reports of incidents of bullying initiated by persons who prefer anonymity shall be entertained, and the person who reported the incident shall be afforded protection from possible retaliation; provided, however, that no disciplinary administrative action shall be taken against an alleged bully or offending student solely on the basis of an anonymous report and without any other evidence.
• The following is the manner a fact-finding investigation (and documentation on the bullying complaint) may be conducted: The school administrator, principal or school head, or guidance counselor/teacher, or school personnel or person designated to handle bullying incidents shall: a) Separately interview in private the bully or offending student and the victim; b) Determine the levels of threats and develop intervention strategies. If the bullying incident or retaliation or the situation requires immediate attention or intervention, or the level of threat is high, appropriate action shall be taken by the school within twenty-four hours (24) from the time of the incident; c) Inform the victim and the parents or guardian of the steps to be taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation; and d) Make appropriate recommendations to the Child Protection Committee (CPC) on proper interventions, referrals and monitoring.
• The following are minimum requirements of due process that shall be complied with in all cases where a penalty is imposed on the bully or offending student: a) The student and the parents or guardians shall be informed of the complaint in writing; b) The student shall be given the opportunity to answer the complaint in writing, with the assistance of the parents or guardian; c) The decision of the school head shall be in writing, stating the facts and the reasons for the decision; and d) The decision of the school head may be appealed to the Division Office, as provided in existing rules of the department.
The same section also provides that the CPC shall determine the appropriate intervention programs for the victim, the bully and bystanders. The school head or the CPC may refer the victims and the bully to trained professionals outside the school, such as social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists, or child-protection specialists, for further assessment and appropriate intervention measures, as may be necessary. The school head or the designated school personnel shall notify the Women and Children’s Protection Desk of the local Philippine National Police, if he believes that appropriate criminal charges may be pursued against the bully or offending student.
This column should not be taken as a legal advice applicable to any particular case as each case is unique and should be construed in light of the attending circumstances surrounding such particular case.
Lawyer Toni Umali is the current assistant secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs of the DepEd. He is licensed to practice law not only in the Philippines, but also in the state of California and some federal courts in the United States after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004. He has served as a legal consultant to several legislators and local chief executives. As education assistant secretary, he was instrumental in the passage of the K to 12 law and the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations. He is also the alternate spokesman of the DepEd.