INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's first statewide report on bullying at its public schools has found more than 9,000 incidents over the last school year, although student advocates say the state needs more data to fully assess the scope of the problem at its schools.
The bullying data posted on the Indiana Department of Education's website shows that 44 percent of the 9,396 bullying case reported during the 2013-14 school year were verbal incidents and 21 percent were physical. The rest included written or electronic threats and social shunning.
Indiana Safe Schools coordinator David Woodward said the initial data is insufficient to provide full assessments of bullying in Indiana but it provides a starting point to understand the problem's extent.
"I think now it is most helpful at the local school district to see what trends are going on and how they can deal with it," he told The Indianapolis Star.
A state law passed last year and supported by parents of bullying victims required Indiana's public schools to begin collecting data on bullying incidents.
State Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, the legislation's author, called the bullying data a big step forward for Indiana's anti-bullying initiatives, but questioned why more than 240 of the more than 1,000 individual schools in the data reported no bullying incidents.
"The whole point is to look at the education atmosphere of our children. This is why we have the data, to give schools tools to address it," he said.
Porter said that when the legislation was debated, there was concern some schools might not report to avoid "looking bad."
Woodward said schools are still learning the reporting requirements and he expects it will be improved next year.
Tammy Moon, president of the Bully Prevention Alliance, said she would like the state education department to do more to ensure all schools are honestly reporting bullying incidents going on in classrooms, hallways and buses.
The 2013 law's intent was to better define bullying so schools can identify it and react to it. Indiana's teachers now receive training on how to spot signs of bullying and report such incidents to school administrators, who must then report those incidents to parents and submit an annual report to the state.
The school with the most bullying incidents was Emma Donnan Middle School in Indianapolis, where 128 acts of bullying were reported among its 322 students. That school was taken over by the state in 2012 after years of poor test scores and is now operated by Charter Schools USA.
Charter Schools USA's chief academic officer, Sherry Hage, attributes the large number of reported bullying incidents to the school's strict behavior code and policy requiring staff to report all discipline issues.
"Do I believe that we have a serious bullying issue? No I do not. I believe that our students feel comfortable going to an adult to mediate conflict," she said.