Bullying by the numbers in NH

New data shows that the number of bullying incidents being reported by Granite State schools is down

The number of reported bullying incidents is down, according to the latest Bullying Report released in March for the 2014-15 school year by the New Hampshire Department of Education. But why the numbers have dropped isn’t clear.

Under state law, each year the DOE collects data from schools in the state on, among other things, the total number of bullying incidents reported and the number of incidents that were investigated where it was determined actual bullying occurred.

The survey also breaks down the types of bullying including bullying based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity and appearance.

According to this year’s numbers, there were 2,230 reported incidents of bullying in elementary, middle and high schools across the state during the 2014-15 school year. This is down 10 percent from 2,458 in the 2013-14 school year, and down nearly 40 percent from a high of 5,561 in the 2010-11 school year.

Furthermore, the number of investigations that resulted in the discovery of actual bullying incidents is also down. Those numbers fell 10 percent from 1,221 in the 2013-14 school year to 1,201, in 2014-15, and 40 percent from a high of 2,988 in 2010-11.

“Yes, it does appear that there is a downward trend,” said Heather Gage, Chief of Staff and Division Director of Department of Education in an email interview.

“Please note that we do not have any researchers/analysts on staff that has looked into exactly why this is occurring. Therefore, it would not be advisable for us to determine or state ‘what does it mean’ or ‘what specifically has helped facilitate these changes.’ However, one could certainly hope that professional development of staff, integration of anti-bullying materials and lessons for students and other resources within schools are helping with this trend.”

Gage said at the end of each school year, schools are required to complete the School Safety Data Collection. The principal of each school is asked to complete the data collection and it is certified by the superintendent; all of this is done online.

Even though these reports are required, they don’t necessarily include all students. For example, in the 2014-15 school year, there were 11 schools that did not certify the School Safety Survey. That means that all, some, or none of the questions in their surveys were completed and the schools' superintendents did not certify the data.

Four of those schools did not fill it out at all and therefore their enrollment numbers (enrollment totaling 1,305 students) are not included in the totals above, according to the report. So it is possible this could account for some of the smaller numbers as well.

 Carol Croteau, a parent, and founder of Bully Free NH, posits another reason.

“I still believe there is under-reporting by schools and cases that clearly fit the definition of the law are not being declared as bullying by school staff,” she said, noting this is what parents are telling her is the case. She encourages parents to appeal these decisions.

Part of the problem with investigating bullying is that though there is a law that defines the behavior, as with anything, there are nuances.

The NH Anti-Bullying law defines bullying as is a single incident or pattern of incidents involving a written, verbal, electronic or physical act intended to physically harm a student, inflict damage upon his or her property or cause substantial emotional distress. The behavior rises to the level of bullying when it interferes with a student’s educational opportunities, is severe, persistent, or pervasive to the point that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment, and/or disrupts the orderly operation of the school.

Bullying has many forms: physical – causing bodily harm; verbal, using written or spoken words that are cruel or that put someone down; emotional – hurting someone’s feelings; and sexual – meaning sexually harassing. Bullying can also be prejudicial, which includes abuse and intimidating behavior stemming from a prejudice against a person because of his or her race, religion, culture or sexual orientation, etc.

That said, sometimes students, who may otherwise be friends, say something or do something in which feelings get hurt, as Todd A. DeMitchell, a professor with the Education Department & the Justice Studies Program at the University of New Hampshire previously reported to Parenting NH.

"You need to have a clear definition of what bullying is," DeMitchell said. "Because children push, shove, tease, treat each other badly at times, they're children. …I've always been very concerned about over-labeling bad activity as always bullying. I think that diminishes what it means to be a true bully and the psychological and emotional impact of true bullying. That doesn't mean that things that don't constitute bullying shouldn’t be addressed as vigorously; they should. But I think we need to be careful labeling every act and every kid as a bully."

As for how the state uses this data, Gage said, “The DOE reports this data each year and shares the data with interested parties when requested.”

The numbers don’t actually influence policies or procedures one way or another at the state level. However, the DOE has partnered with the Manchester-based Media Power Youth, an organization that works within communities to empower youth to make healthy choices through smart use of media. Gage said this is the first New Hampshire organization to be listed on SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

Furthermore, she said the NEA NH has several professional learning opportunities for educators regarding bullying. According to the NEA NH website these include Bullying: A Social Justice, Quit-It!, Bullyproof and Flirting or Hurting.

Croteau said likewise there are several evidence-based, positive climate and culture programs available at the district levels, including positive climate and culture programs like the Olweus Bully Prevention, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Courage to Care, among others.

“School culture facilitates bullying,” Croteau said. “Adults are the only ones who can make change in our schools, community and homes. There is always something more we adults can do. Such as, be that good role model to our kids in the school, at home, and in the community. Successful schools are those that recognize that bullying happens every day in their school and how well they intervene makes all the difference.” 

Melanie Plenda is a full-time freelance journalist and mother living in Keene.

Categories: Bullying