Changes make bullying report ‘more accurate’

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

During the 2016-17 school year, as every year, several incidents allowed local school officials to test their mediation skills, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Each year, schools are required to report the number of bullying incidents in their halls, as mandated by a 2013 state law. The data allows the IDOE to put together the Student Safety/Bullying report, and the report for 2016-17 was recently released. It breaks incidents down into categories: physical, verbal, social/relational, written/electronic and combination incidents. The law also defines bullying as a student or group of students acting against another student in an imbalance of power to harass, ridicule, intimidate or harm the victim.

“Some of it is subjective,” said Ryan Case, principal at Dubois Middle School. “Was it bullying, or was a kid just mean?”

At Dubois Middle School, staff use a checklist based on the state’s definition of bullying to determine how to label a situation. According to the IDOE’s report, in 2016-17 Dubois Middle School had four instances of written/electronic bullying.

Most local schools reported zero bullying instances, according to the report. However, the data shows one instance of written electronic bullying at Northeast Dubois High School and one instance of social/relational bullying at David Turnham Educational Center. Forest Park Junior-Senior High School had the most instances of bullying of the local schools, reporting five instances of written/electronic bullying, two instances of verbal bullying, one instance of physical bullying and one instance of social/relational bullying.

When Forest Park staff deal with bullying in their halls, their first priority is putting a stop to the situation. Then, they talk to both the bullies and the victims to get to the root of the issue. Often, the bullies are acting out because of something unrelated to the victim, Forest Park Principal Jamie Pund said.

“Bullying is often a reaction of other things going on in that child’s life,” she said.

Something to consider when looking at the report is how the data is listed. Since the data is reported by the school, schools with more grade levels could look worse when it comes to bullying than schools with fewer grade levels. For example, Forest Park covers seventh through 12th grade — six grade levels — while other school corporations split those grade levels into two schools.

Although the IDOE’s bullying report can be a valuable tool for parents and school staff, it is an imperfect report, according to IDOE Press Secretary Adam Baker. The accuracy of the data is dependent on local school officials reporting accurately, so there is room for human error.

“Honestly, there’s a trust; there’s an honor system there,” Baker said.

The IDOE has also had glitches with the electronic reporting of the data. Previously, the system would automatically report spaces left blank as zero rather than prompting users to fill the blank space. That glitch has been fixed, leading to a 24 percent increase in reported bullying incidents this year.

“It’s not that the number of bullying instances has gone up,” Baker said. “It’s that the report is more accurate.”

To safeguard that accuracy, the state legislature passed a law this year that allows the IDOE to conduct audits of a school if parents report that bullying is occurring, but not being reported. The IDOE already conducts safety audits of schools, but only gets to about 60 of the 300 to 400 schools in the state each year. The new parental reporting system will help direct the IDOE’s attention where it’s needed most.

“It adds a layer of accuracy and transparency,” Baker said. “And it gets parents involved.”

Overall, Baker said, the IDOE is confident that the report offers valuable information, and IDOE staff continues to look for ways to improve the reporting process and the data provided.




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