Child expert at UIndy says Indiana's bullying numbers are still underreported

Dean says cyber bullying difficult to investigate

INDIANAPOLIS -- A child expert at the University of Indianapolis says Indiana’s bullying numbers are underreported.

Dr. Anita Thomas, Dean of UIndy’s College of Applied Behavioral Sciences, examined the latest bullying data released by the Indiana Department of Education and said schools are clearly having a difficult time investigating and reporting cyberbullying.

The incidents are grouped by physical, verbal, written/electronic, social/relational and combination bullying incidents.

Schools reported a huge increase in written/electronic bullying with 433 incidents in 2016-2017 and 2,446 in 2017-2018.

“I still think those numbers are an underreport of actual bullying events,” said Dr. Thomas. “We underestimate how frequently teens are on their phones or their iPads or tablets. The cyberbullying is pervasive because it can be all day and teens are having a hard time turning off from that.”

New numbers show Indiana schools are reporting more of their students have been bullied, months after a Call 6 Investigation found most schools didn’t report a single bullying incident.

Per a 2013 law, Indiana public and charter schools are required to report the number of incidents to the Indiana Department of July 1 of each year.

READ | Dozens of Indiana high schools report 0 bullying incidents - but parents disagree

Indiana schools reported 5,604 bullying incidents for the 2017-2018 school year, a 24 percent increase from the 2016-2017 school year when there were 4,516 reported bullying incidents.

“I think schools are going to have to start working more actively with parents and families to understand the types of bullying they need to report, and to make sure parents and students feel safe in reporting,” said Dr. Thomas.  “A lot of schools are adopting anonymous hotlines that do anonymous tips.”

Dr. Thomas said schools need to realize properly handling bullying is a  matter of life and death.

“Bullying has a ton of effect on depression and anxiety, and cyberbullying is really strongly correlated with suicidal ideation, so having these categories and asking schools to do a better job of tracking will ultimately save some of our children,” said Dr. Thomas.

Call 6 Investigates found nearly 60 percent of Indiana schools reported zero bullying incidents for the 2016-2017 school year.

READ | Holcomb signs anti-bullying law prompted by Call 6 Investigation into misreported numbers

Our investigation prompted a new state law, HEA 1356, which allows the Indiana Department of Education to audit schools for how they report bullying and require IDOE to send annual reminders to schools about their duty to report bullying.

The law also allows the Indiana Department of Education to audit schools to ensure they’re reporting bullying accurately, and also requires IDOE survey schools to find out what’s preventing them from reporting accurately.

The survey report will be shared with the legislature and posted on the IDOE website.

Click here to see how many incidents your school reported.

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