Bullying reports on the rise

Published 9:19 pm Thursday, May 10, 2012

Administrators attribute increase to better awareness

Reported incidents of bullying in Suffolk Public Schools have nearly doubled in the current school year to date, but school administration says the increase could be attributed to more vigilant incident reporting following an awareness campaign.

Suffolk Public Schools has reported 47 bullying incidents so far in 2011-2012 against 26 incidents during 2010-2011.

The spike follows a decline, with 75 bullying incidents reported in 2008-2009 and 72 in 2009-2010, and may be explained by an anti-bullying forum held in April 2011, District Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Kevin Alston stated in an email.

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The forum involved a videoconference from seven school locations with a panel made up of educators, city officials and high school students.

Alston described a range of other anti-bullying actions the district has taken, including a bullying awareness web page, a bullying hotline, pamphlets and staff training in conflict resolution and intervention.

The intervention training, for example, advises school staff to stand between bullying victims and perpetrators to block eye contact, letting students know that bullying is unacceptable, and telling students who bully that their behavior will be monitored.

Additionally, John Yeates Middle School received a grant to pilot an anti-bullying program, cyberbullying training is available, school-wide discipline programs are in effect, and bullying complaint forms are available online and from school offices.

Also, new teachers receive training for recognizing and dealing with bullying, which Alston says exceeds the requirements of a new anti-bullying state law that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed this year.

Under the law, public school workers require training on anti-bullying tactics from the Virginia Center for School Safety.

“We’re already way over what other school divisions do,” Alston said in a phone interview. “We were meeting the requirements before the requirements were made.”

Alston says that the rate of bullying reported by students may overstate or understate the issue.

“There’s kids out there, I’m sure, who are afraid to report it,” he said. “I’m positive there are cases that are unreported. Then again, there are some that might report bullying when really there is no imbalance of power.”

He said that latter instance is “not bullying; it may be harassment of some sort. We try to sort through that; we try to go out (to the school) and make the best decision we can.”