The Indiana law passed to address the issue of bullying has exposed yet another glaring problem.
The accurate reporting of bullying incidents by school officials.
How else to comprehend the hundreds of school corporations throughout the state that have continued to report zero or a low number of bullying incidents to the state each year — all of which defies the reality of student life. Which helps explain why the Indiana Department of Education asked school corporations statewide, as part of a survey, “What situations might prevent school districts from accurately reporting bullying incidents?”
Of the 155 survey respondents, about 75 percent agreed “difficulty reporting behaviors that don’t fit the label” of bullying might affect the accuracy of data. Only 50 percent agreed that “our school corporation reports are accurate,” and 20 percent agreed “the legislative definition of bullying is vague.”
If the school corporation themselves can’t vouch for the accuracy of their reporting, how confident can parents and students be that schools are taking bullying seriously? Of the 1,846 schools listed in the state’s database for the 2017-18 school year, 863, or 47 percent, reported zero bullying incidents.
State Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, the author of the 2013 mandate that requires school districts to report bullying incidents, told The Tribune that “When about half of the schools say they don’t have any incidents, that’s totally a fable ... They don’t want to be held accountable.”
Locally, the South Bend Community School Corp. reported 312 bullying incidents for 2017-18 school year. Give credit to the corporation for appearing to take the reporting mandate more seriously than other local districts.
Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. reported 27 bullying incidents across its 15 schools — including Penn, one of the largest high schools in the state with about 3,400 students, which reported a total of four incidents. Between the district’s three middle schools, there were 14 incidents collectively reported.
And School City of Mishawaka reported 14 bullying incidents for last school year across 10 sites, down from the 90 incidents reported the previous year.
If those figures are accurate, then it appears that some officials have somehow figured out the bullying problem and should share that knowledge with others.
Nathan Boyd, the director of African-American student and parent services for South Bend schools, noted that the number of incidents isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that he sees it as an indication that the children who are bullied are “more comfortable sharing experiences they’re having.”
If only more school corporations were equally comfortable sharing those incidents with the state.
And it’s not just school officials who need to get on board with Indiana’s bullying measure. It’s clear that the state’s education department and lawmakers aren’t on the same page. The Tribune story revealed the confusion about the state’s authority to audit districts and hold them accountable for reporting accurate bullying data.
Turns out that for an audit to be conducted, at least two parents must report concerns about the accuracy of bullying incidents in the department’s report (the latest one is expected to be published in August on the department website) — something that Porter, who authored a 2018 bill to hold districts accountable, didn’t know until a Tribune reporter told him.
An education department official said the department will soon meet with Porter to ensure the rule “reflects the intended spirit of the statute.” We hope they resolve this and any other issue to help make the law as clear and effective as possible.
And parents should understand the role they can play in holding their children’s schools accountable for reporting accurate statistics. They can and should step forward if they believe the reports don’t reflect reality. Because schools can’t effectively address the issue of bullying if they don’t acknowledge the depth and breadth of the problem.