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Was it bullying? A 3rd grade teacher gives a student a Catastrophe Award.

Teacher called it a joke, but some KGUN9 viewers think it's bullying

CREATED May 26, 2012

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  • International bullying expert Sheri Bauman examines whether the teacher was being a bully when she handed a third grader a Catastrophe Award.

  • Catastrophe award given to 3rd grade student

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- Cassandra Garcia is only 8 years old and for most children that age receiving an award for being tops in anything is exciting.

"No child is going to be happy to receive an award like this," said Cassandra's mother, Christina Valdez, as she held in her hand the Catastrophe Award given to her daughter in front of the entire 3rd grade class at Desert Springs Academy. The award was for having the most excuse for not having homework.

The principal told KGUN9 that it was a joke, but Christina says her daughter came home upset because, Valdez said, "all the children were laughing at her."

On KGUN9's Facebook page, most viewers thought the award was inappropriate. A few didn't see it that way. Mike Miller said: "Some people can't take a joke. I would laugh if my kid received an award like that because I teach my kids to deal with all aspects of life."

And several went so far as to say it was bullying. Cherry Fisher said it was "Bullying." Monica Martinez said "it is plain bullying." And Lana Tucson wrote: "We talk about bullying in schools by other children, but never about bullying by teachers."

Does this "Catastrophe Award" constitute bullying? We posed that question to psychologist Sheri Bauman, an international expert on the topic.

Cavazos asked, "Could the teacher be a bully?" Bauman answered, "Perhaps. I think based on the information we have we don't know. Clearly this is a power differential between a child and a teacher. So the teacher has the advantage in that case. So that certainly meets that characteristic."

But the gray area comes with the other characteristics of bullying. There must be intent. "It's difficult to say if their intent really was to humiliate or make an example of one child in order to motivate others," said Bauman.

And the bullying behavior must be repeated. "If this had been repeated -- whether in the same way or other ways -- publicly embarrassing someone and pointing out their deficits. How they don't quite measure up."

Even if this wasn't a case of bullying, Bauman and other education experts KGUN 9 interviewed said the teacher exercised poor judgment because Cassandra didn't think it was a joke and was hurt by it.

Valdez thought this might be a case of bullying, which is why she called KGUN9. She said the teacher had ridiculed her daughter a number of times during the year.  But as Bauman pointed out, without being in the classroom, it's difficult to determine the intent of the teacher's behavior.