News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

June 23, 2014

Hoosier students 3rd most-bullied

Vigo schools issues new policy to combat growing tide of physical, online harassment

TERRE HAUTE — According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control Survey, Indiana ranked third in the nation for incidences of electronic bullying and bullying on school property.

That and related information prompted the Indiana General Assembly to enact a new anti-bullying law last year that better defines bullying and calls for timelines for reporting, investigating and followup.

The Vigo County School Corp. has been implementing the law, which took effect last summer. On Monday night, the district proposed an amended anti-bullying policy to comply with the new law. The policy is going from one-half page to five pages, said Rick Stevens, VCSC student services assistant.

With the new law, the legislature wanted to be sure every school district in Indiana “would be accountable for reporting, for investigating, for doing a very thorough job whenever they received a report about bullying” from a parent, student or teacher, Stevens said.

Whenever bullying is reported in the Vigo County School Corp., it is investigated and “we take every one of those very seriously,” Stevens told the School Board.

The policy defines bullying in detail and differentiates it from conflict. Sometimes, an incident reported as bullying may instead be conflict — but consequences may still occur, he said.

The Vigo County School Corp. investigated 100 reports of bullying last school year, with 35 of them substantiated, Stevens said after the meeting. The types of bullying varied, as did consequences and interventions.

The proposed policy says the bullying behavior “may be subject to school disciplinary procedures regardless of where it happens if the behavior creates a substantial interference with school operations or involves an unreasonable threat to the rights of others to a safe and peaceful learning environment.”

If further states that all employees, volunteers or contracted service providers with knowledge of a bullying situation “are required to verbally report the incident to the school principal or designee immediately or as soon as possible.” A written report is to be made by the reporting party within 48 hours of the verbal report.

Once a report is received, the principal is to initiate an investigation, which should be completed within five school days, if possible.

The policy also lists possible disciplinary and intervention actions that range from parent contact and conferences or positive behavior supports all the way to out-of-school suspension and request for expulsion.

 Each school must keep a record of numbers and categories of bullying incidents, which in turn, must be reported to the state. Under the law, bullying falls into four categories: verbal, physical, social/relational and electronic or written.

The policy calls for annual training of school staff, and it also states that teachers or other school staff — including administrators — who fail to initiate and/or conduct an investigation of a bullying incident are subject to discipline.

The district didn’t get word about the changes in law until August and has worked hard the past year to comply, Stevens said. Students also must be educated about bullying each year, and last fall that had to occur by Oct. 15, he said.

The law focuses not only on the victim, but also the bully. The goal is to change the bully’s behavior early on, Stevens said.

The policy received a first-reading on Monday and will have two more readings before the school board.

During a public comment period, Leah Myers, the parent of a high school student, praised the board for the proposed changes to the anti-bullying policy.

But she also asked that it include a process for parents when situations are not satisfactorily addressed at the

school level.

“It would be nice to see a specific chain of command,” she said. Such a process “would be helpful to us in advocating for our children.”

During his presentation, Stevens provided other data that prompted the change in state law. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

n One in four students had been bullied at school during the 12 months prior to the survey.

n One in five students had been bullied electronically during the 12 months prior to the survey.

n One in 20 youths did not go to school in the 30 days prior to the survey for fear of safety at school or going to and from school.

A separate study by the National School Safety Center reported that 60 percent of students who were identified as school bullies ended up with a criminal record by age 24.

New research on 37 school shootings, including Columbine, found that almost three quarters of student shooters felt bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others.

Also, students reach out to an adult in only about one-third of the cases of bullying. They don’t perceive teachers or adults will do anything. They fear retaliation from the bully. They don’t want to be perceived as weak or a “tattletale.”

After the meeting, Stevens described the statistics as “alarming.”

He also encourages parents to report bullying if it occurs; they can do so through the school district website or anonymously.

“If we’re not aware of it, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it,” he said. “If they make us aware, we have a responsibility,” not just legally, but morally and ethically, to investigate and get to the bottom of it.

He noted the school district does several things to make schools safe, including a protection officer in each school; the SPPRAK program that focuses on being kind to others; and a Second Steps program in which counselors go into schools to talk about how to resolve conflict.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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