INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Last year, there were 5,257 bullying reports at Indiana schools, according to the Indiana Department of Education. What’s raising questions is the percentage of schools reporting zero incidents of bullying.
“Schools have different reporting codes. You may have a situation in the classroom that could be bullying, or it could be classroom disruption. It kind of depends on how that educator reports that,” said Adam Baker, the Press Secretary of the Department of Education.
Out of all of the districts, 49 percent reported zero bullying incidents. The Department of Education says this brings up an important conversation about holding schools accountable.
“When we talk about districts reporting zero, we need to have that honest conversation. Are they really reporting zero, is that a true number or is it just a matter of having training with that district," asked Baker.
Lebanon’s school district is one of a select few in the state that has its own police department.
“We’re not just showing up if somethings wrong, we get to build those relationships,” said Joel Smith, a Student Resource Officer for Lebanon Community Schools. “We’re there if something bigger were to go down or an arrest were to be made."
Although Smith takes care of misbehaving students, he says, it’s more about prevention and putting a stop to the bullying before it happens. Michael Reynolds is the Assistant Principal at Lebanon High School.
“We have a pride program that really focuses on respect and how to treat one another,” said Reynolds.
For students, the district provides programs like pride and a tip line to call or text in concerns and for educators they focus on training to make sure they know how to handle bullying.
“It gives you an idea of what’s taking place inside the schools,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds is talking about Indiana Department of Education’s annual school bullying, safety staffing and arrests report.
“This is the first year we have had 100 percent of districts report,” said Baker.
Yet, half reported zero bullying. Baker says if in anyway it’s bullying, schools need to report it.
“Schools have different reporting codes,” explained Baker. “You may have a situation in the classroom that could be bullying, or it could be classroom disruption. It kind of depends on how that educator reports that.”
The report breaks down the types of bullying from physical, verbal, social and cyber, to figure out what the state needs to do to improve.
“Our department started to add training pieces to our school safety academy and to our conversations with districts on cyber bullying,” said Baker, “how to recognize it, how to prevent it.”
According to the data, physical bullying incidents increased 147 percent. Written/Electronic incidents decreased by 79 percent from the previous year. For the first year arrests were added to the report, showing more than 1,000 students.
“It’s sad to say there are some in that report, I think there’s one or two that were below the age of 10,” said Baker.
Lebanon Community Schools’ bullying reports are very low. While that’s good news, Smith says it’s not only his job to keep it that way.
“When parents are aware of what’s going on, they can step in and still use us as a resource,” said Smith.
In response to the Indiana Department of Education annual report, State Rep. Gregory Porter (D-Indianapolis) issued a statement:
“The lack of reporting on this issue is concerning because we believe that bullying is happening at higher rates in schools across Indiana. For whatever reason, school corporations are not reporting instances of bullying to the degree that students and parents have said they’re happening.”
According to the Department of Education, new legislation passed in 2018 added language to existing bullying laws and states school corporations must include cellular telephones or other wireless devices in their discipline rules which prohibit bullying.
For more on bullying resources from the Indiana Department of Education, click here.