INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana State Department of Education is speaking out for the first time since a new law took effect July 1 aimed at getting schools to accurately report bullying incidents.
That law requires the Indiana Department of Education to send out reminders to schools about their duty to report bullying incidents.
IDOE’s Chief Talent Officer Dr. Scott Syverson said they’ve sent out memos about the bullying report requirement via phone, snail mail and email.
“I think we sent out no less than four reminders to school districts to be sure they understand the importance of reflecting these numbers accurately,” Syverson said.
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.
Syverson an increase in reporting is a success.
“I think that reminder after reminder after reminder really made a significant difference so we were really happy with that," Syverson said. “We never want to see an increase in bullying incidents but due to the number of schools who reported this year and due to our outreach, it definitely helped so we had more participation.”
The new law also allows IDOE to audit schools if they suspect they’re not telling the truth about bullying.
Syverson said they have not yet done any audits since the law took effect on July 1. But they have received calls from parents encouraged by the new law.
“Parents are very appreciative,” Syverson said.
IDOE wants parents to contact them at 317-232-6610 if they believe their school’s bullying numbers aren’t adding up.
“That’s exactly why we put the audit process in place,” Syverson said. “That’s exactly what they should do, they should let us know.”
Call 6 Investigates found nearly 60 percent of Indiana schools reported zero bullying incidents for the 2016-2017 school year.
Forty-seven percent of schools reported zero bullying incidents during the 2017-2018 school year, which is encouraging to child advocates and lawmakers who pushed for schools to report the truth.
"Sometimes it's hard to unravel these circumstances when you get into cyberbullying and some of those incidents where you're trying to track down who said what," Syverson said.
As part of the new law, the state is also required to conduct a statewide survey about bullying.
IDOE has already sent out the survey form asking schools how to improve accuracy of bullying reports.
“We will be compiling that information soon and putting that report together,” Syverson said. “We are on track to have that report on time.”
IDOE must post the survey on the state website and present the results to the state legislature, per the new law.
Syverson said they will continue working with schools to make sure they’re getting the required training on bullying.
So far, schools are cooperating.
“We don’t get much push back at all,” said Syverson.
A new push is underway to include private schools in bullying reporting requirements like public and charter schools.
"We certainly think it's important to all schools and our recommendation would be to do what they're doing and having conversations about how to change that legislatively," said Dr. Syverson.
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