A new method of reporting bullying incidents in Iowa schools is an improvement over last year’s report, but also points out problems in how incidents are recorded.
The new data released last week by the Iowa Department of Education is far more detailed than past reports. For example, the category of “what the victim was bullied for” contains 17 possible reasons ranging from age, race, religion and gender identity to physical attributes, political belief and socioeconomic status.
But it seems clear that standards of reporting are viewed differently when districts far smaller than Davenport, like Clinton, Columbus, Maquoketa, Muscatine, Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley are reporting more bullying incidents.
Bettendorf, with just over 4,000 students, reports almost four times as many bullying incidents as Davenport, with almost 16,000 students. Logic would dictate that there’s a likely glitch in reporting that needs to be addressed by the state.
Forty-six districts reported no bullying incidents at all, which would be a great achievement to celebrate. But, again, it raises questions whether all districts are viewing incidents the same.
“I think it’s quite obvious across the state that there are still varying degrees of understanding of what may constitute as bullying and/or reportable events,” said Bettendorf Superintendent Theron Schutte.
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While the report has its problems, it still gives school officials a guide for addressing bullying incidents in their buildings. With the greatest number of bullying incidents based on a person's physical characteristics, school districts can concentrate on that area for staff and student training.
Parents can look at the statistics in individual districts and use them as a teaching moment with their children.
The report, as well as information gleaned from last week's anti-bullying summit in Des Moines, also will likely provide guidance to Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa legislators during the 2014 session as they look at ways the state’s anti-bullying laws can be strengthened.