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Bullying reporting down

BY Paige Conley - pconley@chronicle-tribune.com

A new anti-bullying law attempts to cracks down on schools to report all incidents of bullying after many Indiana schools failed to report any incidences.

According to information from TheStatehouseFile.com, a website dedicated to Statehouse coverage in Indiana, the Indiana Department of Education latest data report showed 55 percent of Indiana schools reported no incidents for the 2016-17 school year.

Some legislators attribute the low incident report to an unclear definition while others think schools are afraid of a poor performance review if they provide bullying incidents. No matter the case, legislation and the IDOE are working together to produce a better definition of bullying, according to information from TheStatehouseFile.com.

“The state defines bullying as any overt, unwanted, repeated act or gestures committed by a student or group of students against another student with intention of harassing, ridiculing, intimidating or harming the student,” a report from TheStatehouseFile.com said.

Schools are required to report by categories which include physical, verbal, electronic and social and relational, said Safety Director of Marion Community Schools Justine Pond.

According to statistics from IDOE, Marion High School reported seven incidents of bullying for the 2016-17 school year and only one incident the prior year.

Pond said when a bullying case is made it must meet the criteria of the state’s definition, and once it does the school investigates.

“We investigate all allegations of bullying, and if it’s confirmed through the investigation that it is bullying then there are interventions for the targeted student and the student doing the bullying,” she said.

Many schools focus on the “repeated acts or gestures committed by a student” portion of the state’s definition when making their decision.

Eastbrook High School Principal Pat McLaughlin said they look for a pattern when a bullying case is presented.

In the 2016-17 school year, Eastbrook High School reported zero incidents and only one incident the previous year.

Likewise, District School Safety Specialist and Mississinewa High School Principal Steve Quaderer said the biggest thing is unwanted or repeated gestures.

According to the IDOE, Mississinewa High School reported zero incidents of bullying for the 2016-17 school year and one incident the previous year.

However, statistics show those numbers increase when it comes to lower grades. Pond said schools receive more bullying cases from students between sixth and eighth grade.

IDOE statistics show that in the 2016-17 school year, McCulloch Junior High School reported 12 bullying incidents, R.J. Baskett Middle School reported 20 bullying incidents, and Eastbrook Junior High School reported two bullying incidents.

“It’s a maturity thing,” said Quaderer, adding that he sees bullying more often among the younger grades than he does in the older children.

As well, Quaderer and Pond said the most common form of bullying they see in their schools is through social media. Students tend to hide behind their phone or laptop, Quaderer said.

“It’s a different world than when I was in high school,” he said. “They’re able to share hurtful things in real time to more than one person.”

Social media follows students wherever they go, Pond said.

“Social media can be a wonderful thing, but it can cause a lot of problem for kids,” she said.

It’s for this reason that many schools have taken extra steps to help students report bullying. There’s a stigma about the principal’s office, Quaderer said. Many students don’t want to go in there and tell someone if they are being bullied or if they saw someone being bullied.

“It’s hard for us to address situations, administrationally, that we don’t know about,” he said.

Students who wish to report an incident can fill out an online form, email staff or come to the office at Mississinewa.

According to Pond, Marion has several forms students, parents, staff and anyone who witnesses an incident can fill out anonymously.

“Its just important to encourage people, especially students, that they report it to a trusted adult so we know about it and can investigate it and we can help them,” she said.

When it comes to discipline, according to Pond, the child who did the bullying receives behavioral interventions. The school does this so they can figure out why the child is acting that way and work to help them through it.

“It’s really we combat bullying with really focusing on kindness and compassion,” she said.

A lot of the time, the bullies are being bullied, Quaderer said. Similar to Marion schools, Mississinewa focuses on modifying and changing the child’s behavior.

“No one should come to school and feel unsafe or unwanted,” Quaderer said. “We want our students to feel safe and wanted.”