(Pictured: Lawmakers, parents and students crowded into Gov. Butch Otter’s office to celebrate the signing of HB 246 in 2015. The law requires administrators to report incidents of bullying to the state.)
Idaho administrators reported 3,162 bullying incidents during the 2015-16 school year, according to data obtained from the State Department of Education.
To put this number in perspective: Idaho has nearly 300,000 K-12 students.
This is the first time Idaho has required administrators to report bullying incidents. Previously, reporting was not mandatory. The most commonly used data came from a 2015 SDE student survey.
In 2015, Idaho lawmakers took steps to address bullying, amending existing law to make harassment, intimidation and bullying an infraction.
The law requires districts and charter schools to:
- Provide ongoing professional development to help staff prevent, identify and respond to incidents.
- Share bullying and harassment information annually with parents and students.
- Write their own anti-bullying policies.
- Report bullying incidents to the SDE.
First-year data collection was challenging and it took the SDE nine months to make numbers publicly available.
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“If a large district reports no incidents, a followup occurs to verify. The same thing happens if a small district reports a large number of incidents,” SDE spokesman Jeff Church said. “Accurate reporting entails extensive outreach and training.”
Data for 2016-17 will be collected in June.
The first year of data collection offers a rough comparison between the number of bullying incidents and student populations. West Ada, Idaho’s largest school district, reported 32 bullying incidents in 2015-16; by contrast, district enrollment was 37,435. Other large districts — Boise, Caldwell, Vallivue, Nampa, Coeur d’Alene, Bonneville, Lewiston, Pocatello and Twin Falls — reported bullying rates that would correlate to less than 2 percent of district enrollment.
295,278 — total number of Idaho students
3,162 — number of reported bullying incidents
*from the 2015-16 school year
Superintendents contacted by Idaho EdNews said efforts to minimize bullying are working.
“There is not a negative culture in our schools,” said Gordon Howard, the Bonneville School District’s safe schools director. Only 30 incidents have been reported in Bonneville so far this school year — 39 incidents were reported last year (2015-16) from a student population of 11,757.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to minimize bullying in school,” said Vallivue School District Superintendent Pat Charlton. “All the efforts from the state and districts are paying dividends.”
To promote school safety and drug-free environments, districts and charters received $2,000 each plus another $13 per student from the state.
Katie Bubak, the director of Boise State University’s Idaho Positive Behavior Network, trains teachers and principals in recognizing bullying and adopting behavioral interventions. She said the first-year numbers don’t necessarily reflect what’s happening on the playground or in the classroom.
“The problem is the lack of consistency in identifying, reporting and tracking student behavior,” said Bubak. “I have practitioners saying bullying is a big issue.”
State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra has made bullying awareness one of her priorities. She recently appeared on an hour-long program hosted by KIVI 6 on Your Side, titled “Start the Conversation. Stop Bullying.”
On the program, Ybarra said bullies like to keep their victims silent. She urged victims to “make sure you keep talking and don’t stay quiet.”
The SDE adopted reporting guidelines in an effort to establish consistency:
- Bullying definition — intentional, repeated hurtful acts or words causing fear or harm. Bullying includes the assertion of power over others and can occur electronically.
- Reporting parameters — limited to incidents prompting a formal response such as removal from the classroom, meeting with an administrator, detention, suspension and involvement in special programs.
The SDE data sorted bullying incidents by grade and gender, and by new and repeat offenses.
A school reporting a high number of bullying incidents may simply be more diligent in addressing bullying and enforcement, the SDE said in a statement. Only four districts and one charter reported bullying incidents that would correlate with more than 10 percent of enrollment.
Howard said Bonneville has a counselor in every elementary school and they tackle behavioral issues at an early age.
“We’re proactive — we’re not waiting for something to happen,” Howard said. “We educate them on how you should treat one another.”
Howard said more bullying happens than is reported, “(but) I don’t feel like there is a mass amount.”
Charlton said Vallivue served as a pilot program for intense training. The district has an active safety committee and principals are quick to deal with every case. “We just don’t have a lot of bullying,” Charlton said.
Idaho EdNews Data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Idaho Education News and the Idaho Positive Behavior Network are both housed in the College of Education at Boise State University.