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No Bullying in Richmond Schools?

May 8, 2012

Richmond schools report zero bullying incidents to state

By Mechelle Hankerson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As a family educator and assistant director of the nonprofit group Commonwealth Parenting, Susan Brown has heard her share of stories about children being bullied in area schools.

But you wouldn’t know bullying happened in Richmond from the statistics reported by the city’s public schools: The district, which has more than 23,000 students, hasn’t reported a single incident of bullying since the 2006-07 school year. According to reports filed with the state, the city’s schools have been bullying-free for the past four years.

That is because, in the opinion of Richmond school officials, when one student picks on another, it’s not bullying – it’s harassment.

Bullying and harassment are similar offenses, and it’s a judgment call what to label a particular incident, said Steven Dolton of the Richmond Public Schools’ public information office.

Which is why, in the Virginia Department of Education’s annual report released in March, Richmond Public Schools listed zero incidents of bullying in the 2010-2011 school year. That was true for the 2009-10, 2008-09 and 2007-08 academic years as well.

The last time Richmond reported any bullying was in the 2006-07 school year, when school officials said 498 incidents of bullying occurred.

During the bullying-free years, Richmond Public Schools reported hundreds of incidents of harassment: 714 in 2007-08; 347 in 2008-09; 305 in 2009-10; and 366 last year.

Most other districts report a mix of bullying and harassment. For example, for 2010-11, Chesterfield County schools, which have more than 59,000 students, reported 280 incidents of bullying and 116 cases of harassment. Henrico County schools, with more than 49,000 students, reported 372 incidents of bullying and 48 of harassment.

In the VDOE’s most recent report, Richmond was not the only locality to report zero bullying incidents. Six other school systems did the same: Buckingham County, Galax, Craig County, Covington, Clarke County and Colonial Beach.

The VDOE defines bullying as “using repeated negative behaviors intended to frighten or cause harm. These may include, but are not limited to, verbal or written threats or physical harm.”

The department defines harassment as “repeatedly annoying or attacking a student or a group of students or other personnel which creates an intimating or hostile educational or work environment.”

The VDOE requires schools to report all incidents of bullying or harassment regardless of whether students were punished.

Charles Pyle, director of communications at the VDOE, said the department tries to provide specific definitions to prevent inconsistencies in the data reported by local school officials. But those definitions are subject to interpretation.

Ultimately, Pyle said, “Somebody is making a decision … if something is bullying.”

State officials acknowledge that the data may depend on how school districts define certain offenses in their codes of student conduct. If the VDOE has a problem with local school officials’ reporting, the department works with them to improve their process.

Richmond City Public Schools define bullying as direct actions, like teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting and stealing, that are initiated by one or more persons. Bullying can also be indirect actions, like spreading rumors to isolate victims.

In Richmond, if the principal determines that the bullying isn’t a serious offense, a conference will be held with students and parents. If bullying continues, the perpetrator can be recommended for out-of-school suspension or expulsion.

[Here is a link to the data and the chart.]

Students who are accused or are victims of bullying can be assigned to another school in the district.

Susan Brown of Commonwealth Parenting is often invited to speak to PTAs and other groups. She said parents and school administrators frequently perceive bullying differently.

“When I ask the administrators if they have a bullying problem at their school, they tell me no,” Brown said.

But, she added, “There’s always a line of parents who want to speak to me about their concerns about their child being bullied. There is a disconnect between what children are experiencing and reporting to parents, what parents are observing and what schools believe is going on.”

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Meeting on Bullying Set for May 17

Parents and educators are invited to a town-hall meeting about bullying on May 17. It will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Canterbury Community Preschool, 601 N. Parham Road.

RichmondMom.com and Commonwealth Parenting are sponsoring the event, which will include discussions and resources to address bullying.

The meeting is free, but seating is limited to 50. You can register online at www.commonwealthparenting.org/classes. For more information, call 804-545-1272.

The meeting coincides with the release of the documentary “Bully,” which describes some young people being tormented to the point of committing suicide. The film urges children to stand up to bullies.

According to the movie’s website, www.thebullyproject.com, more than 13 million children are bullied each year.

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On the Web

To view the Virginia Department of Education’s annual reports on discipline, crime and violence, visit www.doe.virginia.gov/statistics_reports/school_climate/

Also, a spreadsheet of bullying statistics is available at http://tinyurl.com/va-bullying2.

An HTML version of the statistics, with an interactive graphic, is available at http://tinyurl.com/va-bullying3.

Related stories:

New Law Requires Anti-Bullying Training

Studies Say Bullying Is Prevalent, Harmful