New Indiana law targets bullying in schools

School is back in session, and so is bullying. Classroom and schoolyard bullies have been around forever. But now, the first time, the state of Indiana is tracking the dangerous behavior and seeing how big the problem is.

According to the Department of Education report, schools counted almost 9,400 bullying incidents last year. Those "incidents " involve children being roughed up physically, verbally or on the internet. The number is actually higher because some school districts are still catching up to the mandates of the new law.

Teachers at Westlane Middle School in Washington Township make anti-bullying part of the curriculum. In one class, the teacher admonished his students, "Your humor shouldn't be at the expense of someone else."

The principal says they've already investigated one bullying incident. "Yes, cyber bullying." Linda Lawrence said, on the second day of school.

Lawrence isn't at all surprised by the number of bullying incidents now being made public.

"No, it doesn't. Let me tell you why," she explained. "It's because it's being brought to the limelight" by a new anti-bullying law signed by Gov. Mike Pence last year. Its full impact is only now reaching schools.

For the first time, there is a detailed and uniform definition of bullying for all schools to follow. There are uniform, recommended reporting procedures, intervention procedures and policies.

Anti-bullying training is now required for all school employees and volunteers, including parents. Carmel Clay schools requires them to complete an online tutorial. Franklin Community Schools and others have online, confidential bullying reporting systems.

Washington Township uses paper forms while the district develops an electronic system.

"It keeps the issue front and center, for one thing," said assistant superintendent John Milleman. He says the district has long-standing anti-bullying programs, but as a result of the new law, "we are perhaps asking different questions when incidents are reported to us. We are probably digging deeper."

That includes putting a greater emphasis prevention as well as punishment. Lawrence described it as "reflecting" with students with the message, "This is not acceptable."

"There will be punishment, but how do you change that the next time if you don't reflect the children," said Lawrence.

Those children take what they learn in school to their homes, their neighborhoods and into their adult lives.

How many of us were bullied in school? More than you might suspect. The Centers for Disease Control ranks Indiana number three for school bullying. One in four children are victims. One in 20, in statistics cited by the state, are so fearful that they skip school.

Bullying prevention and intervention

Bullying School Data