PRO: You should offer reasonable defense against a bully

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Nov. 25, 2012 at 5:25 a.m.

Devin Brown reverse punches target pads at Victoria Karate Academy Tuesday November 6, 2012.

Devin Brown reverse punches target pads at Victoria Karate Academy Tuesday November 6, 2012.

Dawn Kabela can still recall getting that fateful phone call.

Her son, then in fourth grade, had pummeled another kid on the playing field for assigning him to the girls team, a teacher had explained.

"That was his breaking point," Kabela said, "and I guarantee you that kid never bothered him again."

Kabela teaches students there is a time and way to respond to bullying.

A black belt and owner of Victoria Karate Academy, Kabela teaches hundreds of martial arts students how to show the restraint her son couldn't.

She said sparring can help channel a child's aggression as well as instill a sense of discipline and confidence.

She emphasizes over and over that simply a heated conversation doesn't warrant using the skills outside of the gym.

"It should only be when someone is cutting off your air supply," she said, adding she teaches kids how to give someone a "dead leg," or a non-permanent injury as well as accept the consequences of their actions.

"Defend yourself, but that does involve breaking the rules sometimes," she said. "It's not fair, but life is not fair."

Calhoun High School Principal Brandon Stiewig agreed.

"Use just enough force to get out of a scenario where you're backed up into a corner. That's what self-defense means," said Stiewig, who oversees some 1,200 students daily. "It can't be, 'He verbalized me so I beat him.'"

He also said if students claim they acted in self-defense, there needs to be at least two other reports of bullying incidents to support that.

The Victoria school district, the subject of some scrutiny after its handling of a case that led a parent to picket a school, also said self-defense is OK, within reason.

Spokesperson Diane Boyett wouldn't go into specifics about what happened with the picketing parent's family because student privacy rules prohibits it.

This year, the district has handled seven bullying cases as defined by the Legislature. More are under investigation, she said.

"I cannot emphasize enough that even if a situation does not actually meet the legal definition of bullying, behaviors still have consequences," Boyett said of how some incidents could be considered harassment or retaliation.

The types of consequences vary depending on each situation. She said VISD uses in-school suspensions sparingly and only after much consideration. At Mitchell Alternative School, class sizes are smaller and monitored closely.

"They basically don't have the freedom to get up," Boyett said of the highly structured environment, where misbehaving students don't miss a beat of their curriculum and are additionally coached on how to assimilate back into the classroom.

She said as bullying evolves, the district's policy does as well. Specifically, VISD has an electronics use agreement that bans the use of cell phones and filters social media sites, the latter of which is an arena many use to bully.

"Ninety percent of this behavior is not taking place at school," she said of websites like Facebook. "A child is not a public figure and shouldn't be subject to ridicule."

Lane Johnson, associate executive director for clinical services at Gulf Bend Center, said this is not a black-or-white issue. He advocates fighting back - but only after every other option available to a student was exhausted. Johnson, also a licensed counselor, said bullying victims who do react violently won't necessarily display that type of behavior in the future.

"What are victims going to do? Keep running? I would hate to tell a child that that's their only alternative," he said. "I want to teach a child how to stop, stand fast and face the threats."

The picketing parent, Randy Duke, described the incident with his son, Max, and the subsequent protest as a "learning curve" for all. He said Max was accused of fighting, not bullying.

"At the time, they were not looking far back into the history. They were trying to treat it as an individual situation," he said. "It was just a big eye-opener to everyone involved, including the other child. ... We're trying to put this behind us."

He wasn't sure if Max ever felt his life was in jeopardy.

"But no matter what he did, he was going to get physically injured. . I chose to support my son because he firmly believes he did the right thing," Duke said.

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