Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

May 19, 2013

Bullying reporting now required

Schools must track bullying incidents under new law.

Oliver Jackson — known in the music world as DjBigO317 — remembers being bullied by the kids on his high school football team for being small.

He told his coaches about it, but they brushed it off and told him to do the same.

Now, his 6-year-old daughter is battling issues with bullies at her school in Indianapolis, and he won’t let it go.

He is on a crusade to end bullying, and he’s taking the message beyond his daughter’s school.

He partnered with Kokomo artist kCAne MarkCO to launch an anti-bullying music tour that will travel to schools throughout the United States.

But, he said, that alone won’t fix the problem. It needs to be attacked on all fronts. That’s why he recently got behind Indiana’s latest anti-bullying legislation that redefines bullying and ramps up requirements for schools.

Jackson passed petitions around months ago garnering support for the bill.

His actions paid off. Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law May 11.

State Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) spent years crafting and reworking the legislation. To see it pass was gratifying, he said.

“I am ecstatic about it,” he said. “It is a huge problem. It is, to a certain degree, a public health issue. It’s a mental health issue.”

Porter said Indiana was, at one time, ranked third in the nation for bullying incidents. He said when he started looking at the issue, one in four Hoosier students reported being bullied in the last 30 days. One in 20 had missed school because of bullying.

“This is something we can’t put our heads in the sand about,” he said. “It’s real. It affects us.”

The updated law redefines bullying to include bullying that happens through social media websites, text messages or other electronic media.

It also serves to hold schools accountable, Porter said. It’s specific in what it asks schools to do.

The law requires each school corporation to report the number and nature of bullying incidents that occur within the district on its annual performance report that’s available to the public.

It requires schools to have specific and detailed bullying prevention programs, investigation and reporting procedures and discipline rules. Those discipline rules must outline the use of follow-up services and support services for the victim and bullying education for the bully.

The law mandates more training for school personnel and volunteers. The training is designed to help them learn the school’s bullying prevention program.

State Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) said Porter’s legislation had widespread support across party lines.  

“It’s a good bill,” he said. “I can’t see the downside of it.”

The state was not breaking new ground on this, he said. Most schools already had some procedures and programs in place, he said. The law provides a common language and set of guidelines for them to go by.

Maconaquah School Corp. has had an anti-bullying policy in place since 2005. That policy defines what bullying is and establishes reporting procedures in its administrative guidelines.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t clean that up and make it better,” Superintendent Doug Arnold said. “We certainly want to do everything we can to prevent kids from moving in the direction of hurting themselves.”

Both Arnold and Kokomo-Center School officials wonder how the districts are going to accurately report the number of bullying incidents for the annual performance report.

Every bullying incident requires a judgment call. Does it actually rise to the level of bullying?

First they have to show that it’s more than a single incident. There has to be a pattern, said Dawn McGrath, director of programs for Kokomo-Center Schools.

They also have to make a judgment on intent. Did the student intend to harass, ridicule or humiliate another student?

“That’s tricky,” McGrath said.

If schools aren’t reporting bullying incidents the same way, then how can there be an apples-to-apples comparison between districts?

“I know there are going to be issues with the data, whether it’s underreporting or overreporting,” Arnold said. “We’ll just have to report honestly what we have and see how it shakes out.”

Arnold said he knows the intent of the legislation is positive.

The public has been turning to its legislators for nearly 15 years to address the bullying issue.

Georgia was the first state in the country to pass anti-bullying legislation in 1999 – after the Columbine shootings in Colorado.

From 1999 to 2010, 120 bills were passed in state legislatures across the country that either introduced or amended education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Education report.

By 2011, 46 states had bullying laws. Only Hawaii, Michigan, Montana and South Dakota had none, the report stated.

It’s unclear right now how effective the legislation is across the country. Some states, however, are rethinking laws they passed years ago.

A formal report conducted in 2008 examining bullying in Washington schools concluded that despite legislation enacted in 2002, school districts did not appear to be addressing bullying uniformly in the state, and bullying had not declined much since the first bullying legislation was passed, the DOE report states.

Jackson is worried about the same thing happening here.

“The state is content,” Jackson said. “They passed a law. I’m waiting to see how they are going to do this. I’m curious to see how it’s going to get enforced.”

He just hopes schools will do the right thing and take the law seriously. It’s an urgent issue, he said.

“Every day you drag your feet, somebody is out there seriously thinking about hurting themselves,” he said.

 

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