By Kevin Lata
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Half of Virginians view bullying and harassment as a “very serious problem” at school, and another third think it is “somewhat serious,” according to a statewide poll.
The Commonwealth Education Poll, conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University, found that most respondents think the problem is worse today than when they were younger.
Certain groups were more likely than others to see bullying as a very serious problem. They included minorities, women, residents of South Central Virginia and Tidewater, lower-income individuals, people with a high school education or less, and Democrats.
Robyn McDougle, interim executive director of VCU’s Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute, said people often answer these questions with their own experiences in mind. Bullying might be viewed more seriously by people who have been bullied or whose children have been bullied.
In recent years, state officials have taken bullying more seriously.
In 2013, the Virginia Board of Education released a report advising school districts on how to combat bullying. It defined bullying as “the systematic and chronic inflicting of physical hurt or psychological distress.”
The General Assembly has addressed the issue as well. In 2013, for example, legislators directed school boards to include in their student codes of conduct a prohibition against bullying.
In the current legislative session, Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, introduced a bill authorizing school principals to request a meeting with parents so they can receive bully prevention training. House Bill 1537 also sought to allow juvenile courts, at the request of the school board, to mandate that parents receive such training.
However, on Jan. 19, a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee shelved McQuinn’s proposal.
McDougle can understand why. She said such laws can be hard to implement: “The question becomes, what happens if the parent doesn’t comply? You can’t deny the child education.”
Like the state, the federal government also has taken steps to curb bullying. Among other things, it has created a website called www.stopbullying.gov.
According to the site, victims of bullying are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and academic problems. These effects can be long-lasting and even follow children into adulthood. Both youth bullies and their victims are at a greater risk for suicide-related behavior.
Interactive graphic of some statistics from the poll
Is Bullying a Serious Problem in School?
|Respondents||Very serious||Somewhat serious||Not too serious||Not at all serious|
|High school education or less||56%||34%||5%||3%|
|College degree or more||43%||43%||9%||2%|
|South Central Virginia||56%||34%||6%||1%|
|Family income below $50,000||57%||33%||2%||6%|
|Family income $100,000 or more||42%||41%||11%||3%|
Source: Commonwealth Education Poll 2014-2015. It involved interviewing 806 Virginians 18 or older by telephone between Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. The poll has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points. Complete results of the poll are at www.cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/