INDIANAPOLIS— New bullying numbers reveal a downward trend in Indiana, but child advocates warn to take the data with a grain of salt.
For the 2020-2021 school year, schools reported 1,984 total bullying incidents— this includes 565 physical incidents, 788 verbal incidents, 182 social/relational incidents, 219 electronic/written incidents, and 230 combination incidents.
That’s a 56 percent decrease in bullying incidents from the 2019-2020 school year in which schools reported 4,495 cases.
“The numbers went way down, which we could expect because kids weren’t in school,” said John Brandon, president at the Marion County Commission on Youth.
The state’s annual bullying report also pointed to COVID-19 as the reason for the decline.
“The drastic reduction in incidents in 2021 is most likely due to the varying degree of in-person instruction for this school year,” read the report.
John Brandon, president at the Marion County Commission on Youth, said we should take the bullying numbers with a grain of salt given that many students still keep quiet about it.
“We can probably guess that it's 3, 4, or 5 times greater than the number we actually capture,” said Brandon.
The new numbers show while many schools reported zero bullying incidents, other schools did report cases of bullying, and Brandon said that’s not a bad thing.
"If a school has a high number in some ways that's a good thing because it says the students in that school believe their administrators will do something if they come forward,” said Brandon.
The state has very specific criteria as to what can be considered bullying including that the behavior is repeated and has a “substantially detrimental effect” on the targeted student’s physical or mental health.
“Schools interpret the criteria for what is a bullying incident differently,” said Brandon.
It’s clear that bullying has a lasting impact on young people.
Shaneice Brown is a senior at Shortridge High School and was bullied relentlessly when she attended 6th grade in another state.
"They were calling me names, like Medusa, saying I had lice and stuff like that,” said Shaneice. "It affected me. It changed my personality. It changed the way I thought, I see myself, and how I interact with people."
Prompted by a WRTV Investigation that found many Indiana schools reported zero incidents of bullying, in 2018, the Governor signed a new law that allows the Indiana Department of Education to audit schools if parents suspect they’re not being truthful about bullying.
WRTV Investigates checked with IDOE who told us they have not performed any bullying audits on schools since the law took effect in 2018.
“To date, IDOE has found school reporting to accurately reflect these incidents,” the agency said in a statement to WRTV.
SEE THE DATABASE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE TO SEE YOUR SCHOOL’S BULLYING NUMBERS FOR 2020-2021.
IDOE created this new Bullying Discrepancy Report Form for you to submit any concerns when it comes to your school’s bullying numbers.
“If the numbers are accurate, the school knows whether it has an issue or not,” said Brandon.
Child advocates say they’ll be paying close attention to bullying numbers for this school year, 2021-2022, when most students are back in the classroom.
"I think it's going to be a matter of continuing to track and watch overtime to see where we are,” said Brandon.
Shaneice Brown also hopes schools report bullying incidents accurately.
“I'm pretty sure they’re going to go back up now that we're back in school,” said Shaneice.
The high school student says she now feels sorry for bullies and hopes to use her experience to help other students.
“I keep it at the forefront of my mind,” said Shaneice. “But it’s not who I am.”
The Indiana Dept of Education declined to speak with us on camera about bullying, telling us they were not available.
IDOE provided the following statement via email:
Bullying is a serious issue impacting students at schools across Indiana, with preventative training and discipline managed primarily at the local level by our schools. By law, Indiana schools are required to provide bullying prevention training for all students, school staff, and volunteers (IC 20-30-5-5.5 [iga.in.gov] and IC 20-26-5-24.2 [iga.in.gov]). It is the responsibility of schools to complete this training; therefore, I would recommend reaching out to local schools for information on their bullying training timing, mode, etc.
Additionally, each school is required to report the number of bullying incidents involving a student by category (verbal, physical, social/relational, written/electronic, combination) (IC 20-34-6-1 [iga.in.gov]), which IDOE then compiles as part of the Indiana Schools Bullying, Safety Staffing, and Arrests Report [in.gov]. This data is published annually by August 1, and reflects bullying reported for the previous school year. When looking at this year’s data, you’ll see it reflects fewer incidents of bullying than for previous school years. As stated in the report, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the varying modes of instruction, comparing data to any previous school year may not be an effective measurement of trends. Student discipline is the responsibility of our local schools. At the state level, when IDOE receives a written complaint of a discrepancy in the report (which can be submitted here [in.gov]), the department’s school safety team investigates by speaking with the person who submitted the complaint and school officials (IC 20-34-6-2 [iga.in.gov]). To date, IDOE has found school reporting to accurately reflect these incidents. If discrepancies are found, Indiana law directs IDOE to post the findings of a full audit to the department’s website [in.gov].
Additional resources for families and educators are also available here [in.gov]. Please let us know if you have any additional questions.
SEE THE DATABASE BELOW TO SEE BULLYING NUMBERS FOR 2020-2021 AT INDIANA SCHOOLS.