Dozens of Indiana high schools report 0 bullying incidents – but parents disagree

INDIANAPOLIS  Bailey Liscomb is a 17-year old lesbian living in Martinsville. And that, she says, makes her a target.

All throughout the 2016-2017 school year, Bailey says her fellow students at Martinsville High School bullied her incessantly.

“I just got tired of it,” Bailey said, “and I tried to kill myself.

Bailey said the bullies made social media accounts about her.

“They called it Number One Fa* in Martinsville,” said Bailey. “It hurt my feelings because I’m nice to everybody. It was like why would someone do this?”

Bailey said she told a counselor and the principal she was being bullied.

“They would just be recording me, posting me on their Snapchat story, putting gay, fa*, and rainbows and posting it everywhere,” said Bailey.

Bailey’s mom said the school never notified her, and Bailey kept it to herself.

“I found out when she tried to kill herself,” said Bailey’s mom, Destiny Liscomb. “It’s devastating. You almost lose your kid and there’s an adult that could have done something about it.”

The Liscombs were shocked to learn Martinsville High School reported zero bullying incidents to the Indiana Department of Education for the 2016-2017 school year, the same time frame Bailey said she was bullied.

A law has been in place since 2013 so the state can track when and where bullying is happening.

CALL 6 | Despite law, schools are misreporting their bullying data

Call 6 Investigates hears from families nearly every day who are concerned schools aren’t taking bullying seriously.

Our investigation found only 60 percent of schools reported bullying incidents, including large high schools with thousands of students.

That story resulted in a change to state law that aims to improve how schools report bullying.

 

“To say it was zero, I want to know why it was zero anywhere,” said Liscomb. “I don’t understand why they do that knowing kids take their life for bullying.”

Call 6 Investigates called and emailed the Martinsville schools superintendent, and even stopped by the office, but so far no one has explained the zero.

We found dozens of high schools in central Indiana also reported zero bullying, including schools with large populations like Avon and Noblesville—both have nearly 3,000 students each.

Call 6 Investigates contacted more than 30 different school districts to ask if they meant to report zero.

Most schools stood behind their numbers and pointed to the state’s definition which says while bullying can be physical, verbal, social or electronic, for it to be considered bullying it has to be repeated, meant to cause harm, and it has to create a hostile school environment and impact the bullied student’s health or ability to learn.

Speedway High School has approximately 500 students and reported zero bullying last school year.

Superintendent Ken Hull said it is possible to have no incidents that meet the definition of bullying.

“We’ve had zero instances where it rises to a student has power over another one and it’s been repeated, because when you let us know, that becomes the first instance and that’s when we start working on it,” said Hull.

Hull said while many people use the word bullying, schools may consider it a fight or a conflict.

“Do I think there are conflicts? Yes. Do I think someone is teasing someone? Yes,” said Hull. “I believe that happens but we address it and work hard to get it stopped.”

Speedway notifies parents and gets them involved, and everyone from coaches to counselors start anti-bullying efforts at a young age.

"We teach them to be upstanders instead of bystanders, so instead of standing around and watching they get in there and help their friends," said Ashley Anweiler, a counselor at Wheeler Elementary in Speedway. “It seems to work, and periodically throughout the year we revisit the topic.”

Not far from Speedway, Ben Davis High School and the 9th Grade Center have more than 4,000 students but reported zero bullying incidents to the state.

MSD of Wayne Township Superintendent Dr. Jeff Butts said the district misreported because they didn’t enter bullying that resulted in a consequence other than a suspension.

“We had a data issue,” said Butts. “If we don’t enter a specific code into a specific box, it doesn’t get pulled when we report that data.”

Several other schools, like Sheridan High School, incorrectly reported zero bullying as well.

“In talking with our administration and in terms of the accuracy of the state report, Sheridan High School had one case of confirmed bullying last year (16-17) instead of zero,” said Sheridan Community Schools Superintendent Doug Miller. “I've been told there was a change in how that information was pulled into the state report and generated within our student management system.  Our person in charge of state reports is working with the IDOE to make the adjustment.”

MSD of Pike Township also incorrectly reported bullying incidents in the 2016-2017 school year as well.

Spokeswoman Sarah Dorsey said the Indiana Department of Education changed the way it collected bullying information.

“Because our process had been to collect our data via spreadsheets and not in Skyward, the information pulled was not reflective of our actual report. As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately reviewed our documenting practices,” said Dorsey in an email to Call 6 Investigates. “Unfortunately, due to the IDOE’s current policy, even though it contains inaccurate information, the “official report” cannot be updated until/unless they re-open the submission.”

MSD of Pike Township investigated 94 cases and only seven cases met the legal definition of bullying
However, Pike High School had zero bullying incidents even after the district adjusted its numbers.

“We take all reports of student misconduct seriously and follow the progressive disciplinary program outlined in our handbooks,” said Dorsey in an email.

The accurate number for Ben Davis High School and 9th Grade Center was 14 bullying incidents last school year, the district said.

"While those numbers may be part of a data spreadsheet, it doesn't tell the story," said Dr. Jeff Butts. “It’s not just about that report, it’s about what’s happening in our schools. It’s something we address on a daily basis”

Butts said they’re part of a pilot program aimed at figuring out why students bully in the first place and preventing it.

“If there’s any expert on bullying, it’s a young kid who grew up with the last name of Butts,” said Butts.

As for Bailey Liscomb, she wants schools to tell the truth about bullying, whatever the numbers are.

“Why lie about it? Kids are taking their lives,” said Liscomb. 

Bailey now attends an alternative school and plans to go to Ivy Tech and become a counselor.

“I’ve been through a lot, and I just want people to know they’re not alone,” said Bailey. “There’s always someone out there like you, probably even worse so never give up.”

If you’re concerned about bullying in your child’s school, don’t rely solely on the bullying numbers reported to the state.

INDIANA LAW | Student Safety/Bullying Reporting

You should also talk to other parents, as well as school administrators, and ask to see the school’s bullying policy.

Because of Call 6 Investigates reporting, a new law will go into effect July 1.

READ MORE | Bullying bill prompted by Call 6 Investigation heads to governor’s desk for signature

The law requires the Indiana Department of Education to send an annual email or letter by June 1 to school corporations reminding them of the bullying reporting law. It also allows the IDOE to conduct audits of school corporations to make sure they’re following the law, and post any discrepancies on the state’s web site.

Additionally, the bill also requires the IDOE to conduct a statewide survey on improving bullying and report those findings to state lawmakers by Nov. 1, 2018.

MORE | Search the bullying data for your child's school

Currently, schools submit their data to the IDOE, yet the agency does not systematically review each school’s bullying numbers.

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