There are a bunch of reasons for this.
First, impulsive- ADHD behaviors are not calculated to be done when and where staff is least likely to witness, like the behaviors of most bullies 5th grade or above. I literally had a school psychologist in a high school teach kids with IEPs how not to get caught for behaviors that all high school kids engage in… his justification was, “It is not their behavior that is special ed, it is how they get caught.”
Second, from the administrator’s point of view, being able to have a clean investigation with adequate evidence against a bully is EXTREMELY difficult. Unless staff witnesses directly, the students don’t report until they are already at breaking point. Unfortunately, without a clean case, we generally have to build a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” case.
The most common scenarios when I have been able to be aggressive with a bully’s discipline are:
1 – Online bullying. Although this can be some of the most aggressive/worst bullying, the silver lining is that it leaves an evidence trail. In California, we are allowed to discipline online bullying even if it occurs after-hours or at home. This is not the case for live bullying. (Practice pointer – if you are aware of of online bullying print both the offending evidence AND identifying evidence immediately. I have to be able to prove who “FortnightFan17” is before I can discipline them.
2 – The bully has a predictable pattern, and we are tipped off early enough. Example, the bully found a gap on the grounds in our dismissal supervision. After the tip, we “happened” to have a teacher observing from a tinted window with a radio where the bully has been getting away with it.
3 – After an incident or two of incidents where we cannot meet the evidence threshold for more aggressive action, they sign a restrictive behavior plan that restricts contact with certain students or certain areas of campus. We cannot get them cleanly for bullying, but we can get the contract violation. This is the school equivalent of sending Al Capone to jail for tax evasion.
Most of these policies are not really based on the school, they all come from our State Education code. If we don’t follow them. The offender gets off on a technicality and can potentially sue us for damages. A lot of the legal pressure making it harder to suspend and expel is based on the disproportionality that student with disabilities and poor students get disciplined.
This is the same with the rules for mutual combat. The law is written as all or nothing. You are either 100% the victim with no actions that show a refusal to disengage or escalate (said something back, didn’t walk away when reasonably able to do so, etc), or it is considered 50/50 mutual combat. I have literally witnessed only 5-6 cases in 20 years where I felt confident that I could justify calling one party 100% victim. In half of them, the victim had lost their cool and got in a final cheap shot when I was restraining the bully. At that point, my hands were tied.