INDIANAPOLIS — Newly released numbers show an increase in bullying incidents in Indiana, however, child advocates say you should take the data with a grain of salt.
Indiana schools reported 5,103 bullying incidents during the 2021-22 school year, which is a 157% increase from the previous school year (2020-2021) when schools documented 1,984 bullying cases.
The total incidents of bullying increased as schools returned to in-person instruction following the COVID-19 pandemic, however, numbers from the 2021-2022 school year remain lower than the last pre-COVID data collection, the Indiana Department of Education report said.
“That makes sense that it would be higher after the pandemic,” said Lilly Conner, student council president at North Central High School. "We come from a year and a half of being in our rooms and virtual and not seeing each other face to face."
The Marion County Commission on Youth offers training for people who work with kids and is concerned about bullying.
“It's interesting to see the numbers are up from this past school year, but that's to be expected,” Sarah Williams, Public Policy and Advocacy director for the Marion County Commission on Youth said. “The previous school year was in the midst of a pandemic when kids were back home and not around one another."
BREAKDOWN OF 5,103 BULLYING INCIDENTS (2021-22)
- 1,952 Verbal
- 1,616 Physical
- 543 Social/Relational
- 473 Electronic/Written
- 519 Combination Incidents
WRTV Investigates ran the numbers and found 50% of schools reported zero incidents in every single category.
“We are a bit concerned that some of the cases are underreported,” Williams said. “That doesn't mean we shouldn't measure this information, but we want to make sure we are getting as accurate information as possible."
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.
"We are a little concerned,” Williams said. “Are these numbers accurate?"
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.
“IDOE regularly works with families and schools to discuss bullying incidents, with the shared goal of providing a supportive environment for all students,” said Holly Lawson, a spokesperson for IDOE, in an email to WRTV. “To date, no formal audits have been conducted.”
IDOE created this new Bullying Discrepancy Report Form for you to submit any concerns when it comes to your school’s bullying numbers.
Lilly Conner’s school, North Central High School, reported 5 bullying incidents last school year.
“I know there's not just five cases, and I know there's not zero bullying incidents in other schools that didn't report any,” Williams said. “I think it's vital is aware of this issue and takes measures to stop it.”
Child advocates are encouraged that bullying numbers for the 2021-2022 school year are still lower than they were before COVID-19 became a factor.
As we head into a brand-new school year, they urge schools, parents and students to take bullying seriously.
The Indiana Department of Education provided the following statement:
“As students head back to classrooms across the state, it’s important that they have a safe and supportive environment focused on their learning. Indiana’s hard-working educators work to provide this support daily, which is paired with bullying prevention training that is required by state law for all students, school staff, and volunteers. If you or your child are experiencing bullying, make sure to alert a school leader.”
SEE THE DATABASE BELOW TO SEE BULLYING NUMBERS FOR 2020-2021 AT INDIANA SCHOOLS.