INDIANAPOLIS — A state lawmaker has filed legislation in direct response to a Call 6 Investigation that found schools misreported how often students are bullied.
Rep. Greg Porter filed House Bill 1356 this week that aims to improve how schools report bullying incidents to the state.
“We need to do something about this,” said Porter. “Bullying is very important with regards to education reform, the drop out rate and teen suicide.”
Call 6 Investigators Kara Kenney and Jordan Fischer analyzed 2016-2017 data and found nearly 60 percent of Indiana schools reported zero bullying incidents last year.
Porter isn’t buying those numbers.
“We have to report it accurately so we can understand what is going on within that school corporation or in particular, within that school building,” said Porter. “Those numbers are important to us.”
House Bill 1356 would require the Indiana Department of Education to send an annual letter to school corporations reminding them of the bullying reporting law.
It would also require IDOE to conduct a statewide survey on improving bullying reporting by November 1, 2018.
House Bill 1356 would also inform school corporations that bullying does not factor into a school’s annual letter grade they receive from the state.
The legislation would also allow the Indiana Department of Education to conduct an audit of school corporations to make sure bullying incidents are accurately reported, and then report discrepancies on the IDOE website.
“I think that sends a stronger message to schools that they really need to be doing this,” said youth advocate Mindi Goodpaster, with the Marion County Commission on Youth. “It also makes it clear to schools that we were never trying to penalize them for reporting incidents but rather try to help them gather data and understand the significance and the severity of the problem.”
Goodpaster said it may actually be to the school’s benefit to accurately report incidents of bullying.
“They can use it to apply for funding and resources and show they are committed to addressing it,” said Goodpaster.
Goodpaster credited Call 6 Investigates for uncovering schools misreporting their bullying incidents.
“I thank you and RTV6 for looking into this issue and doing the investigation because we didn’t’ know this was a problem,” said Goodpaster. “We had heard anecdotally but we didn’t have hard evidence.”
Mother Amanda Snapp, who has been vocal about her son being bullied, said the legislation is a good start.
“I hope it actually makes a difference,” said Snapp. “Maybe they’ll tell the truth now that they know they’re not going to get a bad grade because of it.”
By July of every year, Indiana schools are required by law to report bullying incidents to the Indiana Department of Education including physical, verbal, social and electronic bullying.
There is no penalty for reporting bullying incidents, and there’s no penalty for failing to accurately report bullying.
Child advocates emphasize the law is in place for a reason.
“The reporting was just to try to get some data statewide on what our problem really is,” said Goodpaster. “It was not intended to penalize the schools or say you’re a bad school, but rather here’s your issue and let’s try to put the pieces together.”
Some school districts, like Indianapolis Public Schools, admitted they misreported and vowed to do better, but other districts stand by their zeroes.
Currently, schools submit their data to the Indiana Department of Education, yet the agency does not systematically review each school’s bullying numbers.
House Bill 1356 has been assigned to an education committee.
Committee chair Rep. Robert Behning told RTV6 he is considering giving the bill a hearing.