There have been three vicious cases of bullying in South Florida that grabbed headlines in recent years.
Josie Lou Ratley was kicked and stomped in the head after authorities say she texted another teen hurtful messages about his brother’s suicide in 2010. In Deerfield Beach, during a four against one fight over a bicycle, bullies doused Mikey Brewer with rubbing alcohol and lit him on fire, burning most of his body in 2009.
Then in March, a Hialeah fight reminiscent of a real-life fight club erupted. In it, a mom allegedly punched and beat a 12-year old girl for allegedly taunting and bullying her daughter, landing that mom in handcuffs charged with assault. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for next month.
Dr. Meline Kevorkian, a nationally-recognized expert on bullying, monitors these and other cases like one in Minnesota involving a three-year-old bully victim. She teaches educators how to best deal with bullies.
The Nova Southeastern professor outlines the “tell-tale” signs of a bully in her book: “101 facts about bullying: What Everyone Should Know.”
She said those warning signs include: changes in your child, mood swings, a drop in grades, talking back, lashing out. She said also watch out for aggressive behavior, rough play and kids really interested in impressing their peers.
Among South Florida school districts, Miami-Dade has the highest number of bullying incidents with (541) reported cases during the 2012-2013 school year, but the district also has more students than Broward and Monroe.
But reported bullying incidents at Miami-Dade Schools, and all South Florida schools, are declining and it might be partly due to programs like one called: “My Life, My Power.” It addresses the dangers of bullying and other negative behavior.
Miami Springs Middle Asst. Principal Michael DeArmas said, “Kids are looking to belong to something...If I am not the bully what am I? Why do you know me? And unfortunately that's a very negative thing that we are trying to stop.”
Kids at Miami Springs Middle School meet every other day for the entire school year to talk out and correct their anger issues in the “My Life, My Power” course.
At least a few students told NBC 6 they have anger issues because of things that happen off campus. Assistant Principal Michael DeArmas believes "that because most of these kids come from tough impoverished backgrounds and are fighting for survival every day; he says it’s no surprise that they are angry."
Professor Kevorkian insists parents must teach kids how to redirect that anger or aggression, not get angry and defensive, and listen when they’re alerted their child might be a bully. She said the worst they can do is remain silent because it gives a green light to the behavior.
South Florida School districts take bullying seriously. Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe all have a specific plan of action outlined in their policy manuals and steps the schools and districts must take including: investigating the problem, stopping the bully from bullying, protecting victim from further aggression, dealing out punishment if warranted, and finally, contacting law enforcement when appropriate.
Kevorkian also suggested the bullying behavior never goes away if it’s not shut down early.
A good example is the bullying situation inside the Miami Dolphins locker room that spiraled out of control last year and ended when the National Football League had to step in to help.
Kevorkian explained that incident thusly, “It's a myth to think that someone who exhibits this bullying behavior when they are young, graduates high school, and just has an epiphany to be a nice and kind person.”