INDIANAPOLIS — A Call 6 Investigation found some Indiana schools misreporting the number of bullying incidents involving their students, and many schools not reporting any bullying instances at all.
By July of every year, Indiana schools are required by law to report bullying incidents to the Indiana Department of Education including physical, verbal, social and electronic bullying.
School hallways and district websites are covered with materials encouraging students to report and prevent bullying, and students and staff are trained on
Yet, Call 6 Investigates found 6 out of 10 schools reported zero bullying incidents to the state for the 2016-2017 school year, and 14 percent of Indiana schools reported zero bullying since the law took effect.
Schools Missing the Mark On Reporting Bullying, Activist Says
Then-Governor Mike Pence signed the anti-bullying bill into law on June 4, 2013, amid cheers from child advocates who said the law was necessary to track bullying cases and to prevent incidents.
Angie Stagge, who now lives in Fairland, fought for years to get the law passed and stood behind then-Governor Mike Pence when he signed the anti-bullying bill into law.
“My daughter was bullied severely in school and out of school, and on Facebook,” said Stagge. “They told her to go kill herself, hang herself, and they beat her up in the bathroom.”
Call 6 Investigates showed Stagge the bullying numbers, and Stagge broke down in tears when she saw all the zeroes.
“This is really disheartening,” said Stagge. “We are really letting our kids down. This is not what I had in mind”
Stagge said the idea behind the law was for schools and the state to track how often students are bullied, and hopefully, prevent it from happening in the first place.
“I am very appalled at this,” said Stagge. “I am very ashamed at our schools. This is awful, and this really upsets me.”
Perry Township Stands Behind Its Numbers Despite Parents’ Claims
Amanda Snapp and Tammy Dyson both said their children were victims of repeated bullying within the Perry Township school system.
“They threatened to kill my daughter,” said Dyson.
Snapp and Dyson said they repeatedly reported the bullying to school officials.
“There was something that happened on the school bus almost every day,” said Snapp. “No one wanted to resolve it.”
Nearly two thirds of Perry Township schools didn’t report any bullying incidents last school year.
Southport High School reported zero bullying incidents for the 2016-2017 school year, the same time period Dyson said her daughter was bullied.
Southport Middle School reported zero bullying to the state during the 2015-2016 school year, the same time frame in which Snapp said her son was tormented.
“I’m shocked,” said Dyson. “To say there had been no reports of bullying couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
“That shows zero, and between the two of us, there’s at least two,” said Snapp. “Obviously, there’s way more than that.”
Dyson said the bullying got so bad, she filed a police report.
“It’s a real kick in the face, it really is,” said Dyson.
Call 6 Investigates requested an on-camera interview with Perry Township Schools to talk about their bullying numbers, but the district’s spokesperson declined, sending us a written statement:
Instances of bullying are entered into our school management software by each school’s principal or administrator. The software program automatically generates a report that is sent to the Indiana Department of Education. The statistics you received reflect that data.
The stats you received also signal that our Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS) initiatives are having a favorable impact on our school environments. PBIS is designed to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students. Click here for more information.
Administrators follow guidelines provided by the IDOE in regards to the definition and reporting of bullying.
We encourage students to report bullying or any disagreement in which they feel threatened by telling a school official or calling our Safety Hotline at 317.789.3905. Once a report of bullying is received by an administrator, teacher or other staff member, an investigation is initiated within one school day.
Perry Township Schools is committed to providing a safe, positive and nurturing environment for all students.
Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney wanted to speak with Superintendent Pat Mapes, so Kenney showed up twenty minutes before a public meeting and asked Mapes if the bullying numbers are accurate.
“The numbers were reported by the building administrators who would be in those buildings investigating those,” said Mapes. “They reported the number of incidents that through their investigations would equal the definition of bullying.”
Mapes emphasized Perry Township’s numbers reported to the state are substantiated bullying cases.
“Bullying is a repeated incident upon a student and not just a one-time incident,” said Mapes. “So, I take faith in our building principals in that they implement our policies accordingly and investigate those things and make sure it meets the definition of bullying in order to make a report for the state.”
The state’s definition of bullying says it has to be repeated, with the intent to harass, ridicule, harass, humiliate, intimidate or harm the targeted student and create a hostile school environment.
Mapes said they’ve been working hard to train students on how to detect, report and prevent bullying.
“We want to provide a safe environment each and every day for our kids,” said Mapes. “We have students who monitor this and resolve conflict, and that’s working, and our numbers prove that it works.”
Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney thanked Mapes for his time and started to leave.
“You’re more than welcome to set up an appointment time instead of just rushing in,” said Mapes.
But Kenney had tried to set up an appointment in a September 14 email to Superintendent Mapes and the district’s communication director Keesha Hughes.
“The email I sent said in lieu of an interview,” Hughes said to Kenney before the board meeting.
“We think this is something where (Mapes) needs to answer these questions,” said Kenney. “You sent a statement. We don’t think it answered the questions.”
“Great way to do it,” Mapes said to Kenney.
Perry Township stands behind its bullying numbers.
“Can we pop upstairs for a second?” Hughes asked Mapes following his interview with Call 6 Investigates.
“I’m gonna run a board meeting here, so, she can go upstairs,” said Mapes.
Call 6 Investigates did not go upstairs.
Kenney stayed for the duration of the school board meeting.
Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney asks Perry Township Superintendent Pat Mapes about his district's bullying numbers at a school board meeting.
IPS Calls Misreporting to State “A Very Unfortunate Oversight”
Call 6 Investigates sat down with Indianapolis Public Schools, one of several districts we found misreported its bullying numbers to the state.
We found 2/3 of IPS schools reported zero bullying last school year, and George Washington Community High School didn’t report any bullying over the past three years.
IPS spokeswoman Carrie Black admitted the reporting error.
"It was an oversight, a very unfortunate oversight,” said Black. “We hate that it happened. We regret that it happened, but we own it."
Black said IPS has been recording bullying incidents at the school level.
Black said the state requested extra information, and the district was unaware of the new category.
"The schools were keeping the numbers, this was more of an upload situation,” said Black. “This was an upload error in what was being sent to the state. "
After inquiries from Call 6 investigates, IPS updated its bullying figures to show 689 bullying incidents.
The district has improved its procedures to make sure they report bullying accurately moving forward, including by adding a daily and monthly check.
“We are tightening up on our timeline on these changes, because we do want to make sure we do get it right,” said Black. “We take bullying very seriously.”
School Districts Throughout Indiana Misreported
Call 6 Investigates found other schools misreported bullying as well.
Scottsburg Elementary School reported 252 incidents for the 2014-2015 school year, but then reported 0 incidents for 2015-2016 and 2016-2016.
Assistant principal Debora Yost told Call 6 Investigates a former school employee “reported erroneously” the 2014-2015 data to the Indiana Department of Education.
Call 6 Investigates also found at the 4th largest school in the state, Penn High School in Mishawaka with 3500 students, they reported 20 incidents in 2014-2015, 71 incidents in 2015-2016 and then did not report any bullying in 2016-2017.
Communications director Lucha Ramey checked and found the school misreported its bullying numbers.
“It seems as if an incomplete partial file of Penn High School's 2017 bullying data was inadvertently loaded to the state database in June,” said Ramey. “The file will be updated in 2017-18. Our correct figures for 2017 are two incidents of bullying.”
Indiana Department of Education Making Changes Following Call 6 Findings
The Indiana Department of Education uses the schools’ bullying numbers to track what’s happening and to look for red flags.
The state also shares the bullying data with the legislative council and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
But, Call 6 Investigates found there’s no teeth in the bullying law.
The state has no way to punish school districts who fail to report or who misreport bullying incidents.
What’s more, Call 6 Investigates found flaws in the state’s own bullying data, which is now prompting the Indiana Department of Education to make changes.
Call 6 Investigates found schools missing altogether from the state’s bullying report database, something the state seemed unaware of until we pointed it out.
“I would say it was definitely missing some pieces,” said David Woodward, Director of School Building Physical Security and Safety with the Indiana Department of Education.
Woodward explained some schools mistakenly believe the system would automatically enter a zero if they didn’t input anything, which meant some schools disappeared altogether.
“I think the schools believed their data collection was going to plug it in, and it didn’t,” said Woodward.
Call 6 Investigates asked Woodward if it was possible for so many schools to accurately report zero bullying incidents.
“It wouldn’t match the national averages,” said Woodward.
Studies show 17 percent of American students report being bullied at least twice a month, and 70 percent said they’ve witnessed bullying in their schools.
Woodward said schools are often left to sort through wars of words on social media.
“It's so difficult to track because rarely is it a clean break that this kid was a bully and this kid was a victim,” said Woodward. “Tracing that back to the beginning and holding just one person accountable when there's ten, it becomes a lot more of a conflict resolution issue rather than a classic bullying issue."
Schools have to follow the state’s definition of bullying, but every school may interpret the law differently.
Woodward said while they do not systematically review or enforce the accuracy of schools’ bullying numbers, they do help districts with bullying training.
IDOE also looks at the schools’ bullying protocols and procedures.
“We spot check, yes, but we don’t say what about this student or what about that student,” said Woodward.
After Call 6 Investigates pointed out flaws in the state’s data, the state updated its bullying numbers and re-posted it on IDOE’s website.
“We take this very seriously,” said Woodward. "Whether the data may or may not say it, your administrators are working the best they can to improve the climate of their school."
The state is also making changes to make sure schools accurately report how often students are bullied by adding an extra step when school administrators enter the data.
“We're putting in some safeguards, so when a school does put their data in next year a box will come up and say ‘you reported this number of bullying incidents, is this true and accurate?” said Woodward. “That way, it's almost like a verification of the data twice."
Parents Say the Numbers Don’t Add Up, Question Impact of the Law
Parents of bullied teens say they want schools and the state to take bullying seriously and report accurately when students are bullied.
“Make your kids feel safe in the schools,” said Dyson. “It upsets me.”
Parents said they’re left to wonder if the anti-bullying law is having any impact at all.
“This is bad,” said Stagge. “It sounds like we need to get the law revised.”
Woodward said the law is having an impact, because it requires an anonymous reporting piece that encourages students to report not only bullying but also a friend considering suicide.
“That’s a huge piece to the law that ends up benefitting students all around the state,” said Woodward.
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