INDIANAPOLIS -- Prompted by a Call 6 Investigation into major discrepancies in how school districts were reporting bullying data, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a new law into effect Monday to better hold schools accountable.
Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1356, which was passed by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, at a ceremony at the statehouse Monday afternoon.
At the bill signing, lawmakers credited a Call 6 Investigation by reporters Kara Kenny and Jordan Fischer into schools not reporting bullying as required by law.
"You shining a light on it, we said ‘Let's really get this done’," said Rep. Greg Porter (D) Indianapolis. “I think it means a lot to the students who have been bullied over the year and the parents who have to live with that every day.”
House Enrolled Act 1356 is nicknamed “Bullying Bill 3.0” because it tweaks the original bullying reporting law that went into effect in 2013.
Call 6 Investigates found schools breaking that law by misreporting their bullying numbers -- in at least one case by more than 500 percent in a single year. The investigation also found that nearly 60 percent of schools reported zero bullying incidents, a figure Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) officials found hard to believe.
"We clearly needed to take some steps to hold schools accountable for reporting and actually addressing incidents of bullying," said child advocate Mindi Goodpaster with the Marion County Commission on Youth.
The law, which goes into effect July 1, requires IDOE to send schools a reminder about their duty to report bullying incidents.
IDOE spokesperson Adam Baker said the agency has already started sending out reminders to schools, which are required to submit bullying data from the 2017-2018 school year by July 1.
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.
Advocates suspect schools may be misreporting because they’re concerned the numbers will hurt their standing with the state.
"The reporting of incidents will not count against them in their performance grades. it has nothing to do with your letter grade," said Goodpaster.
Goodpaster and Rep. Greg Porter said they’re not finished.
Private schools do not have to report bullying incidents like public and charter schools, but Porter said that needs to change.
"They've always managed to be exempt, and I think at this point we have to hold everyone accountable,” said Porter. “We've had a lot of push back from private institutions also adhering to the numbers."
Moving forward, lawmakers hope to get schools more funding and resources to prevent bullying in the first place.
In the meantime, child advocates say parents should hold their schools accountable as well.
“You can have open communication not just with your school administrators, but also the superintendent and the school board,” said Goodpaster. “Parents need to be writing everything down in terms of the dates and who was involved, what happened, so they can present a log of irrefutable proof to the school.”
Parents can also ask their school if their child’s bullying incident will be reported to the Indiana Department of Education.
Child advocates and lawmakers say HEA 1356 is a start to finding better ways to hold schools accountable.
“The law wouldn’t have passed without Call 6 Investigates doing thorough research and report on the missing data of schools reporting zero,” said Goodpaster. “It enabled us to have data to show the legislators that schools were not complying with the law.”