TAZEWELL, VA (WVNS) — Thursday, August 15, 2019 marked the first day of school for Tazewell County students.

Community leaders, including Tazewell County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Michael Dennis, wanted to start off the school year with an important message.

“We want to be sure that any child is safe and protected when they are in our public schools,” Dennis said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 20 percent of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied at school in 2017. Dennis said bullying is a nationwide issue becoming more prevalent in the local school system over the past couple years.

Dennis and his office wrote up a letter with “information regarding bullying” and served it to everyone in the school system. It was distributed with the back-to-school packets for parents and students.

“I hope it helps parents understand that we take this issue seriously,” Dennis said. “If there are issues of bullying that can be proven, we are going to prosecute those cases and the individuals involved in the bullying issues.”

The letter stated “the responsibility of addressing bullying lies with the entire community including parents, schools, local government and law enforcement.” It emphasized bullying, whether online or in school, can have serious consequences.

Major Harold Heatley, with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, said such instances can be dealt with in the courts.

“There are actions that we can take through the legal system to bring those people to justice,” Heatley said.

In the letter, Dennis said he hopes the entire community can work together to help children feel safe, while getting a great education.