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Bill Targets School Reporting of Bullying

March 14, 2012

DOVER — Attorney General Beau Biden, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and legislators from both houses have come together to introduce improved anti-bullying legislation that puts more emphasis on schools reporting instances of bullying.

The proposed legislation contains a provision that requires the Department of Education to annually audit schools to ensure they are properly investigating and reporting bullying allegations, Denn said.

“It’s not just having the numbers, though those are important. Letting parents of kids who were bullied know about it is obvious,” Denn said.

“Less obvious, but just as important, is letting the parents of kids who are doing the bullying know what is going on. Many of these kids, perhaps most, come from families with interested and active parents, who want their kids to do the right thing in school. If those parents know that their kids are engaged in bullying, they will start taking some strong steps at home to deal with the problem.”

Biden said there are gaps is Delaware’s law that “have led to uneven and inaccurate reporting.”

According to the state Department of Justice, in the 2010-11 school year, Laurel Middle School had the highest number of incidents — 38 in a 344-student school– in the state, but William Penn High School had zero reported incidents among 1,981 students, and just one incident was reported in the entire Smyrna school district.

Inconsistencies like that are the reason the amendment to the law was introduced, Biden said, because unreliable data restricts effective action.

“You cannot make decisions if you don’t have accurate data in front of you,” he said. “Any solution starts with making sure we understand the problem. Unfortunately, bullying is part of the human condition. The issue is how we limit it, to make sure kids have to endure bullies as little as possible.”

The current statute requires schools to report “substantiated claims” of bullying to the DOE, with the stipulation that claims must be substantiated within five days. Biden said that, in many cases, there’s “no way” that’s enough time.

Under the proposed change, schools would be required to report all claims, substantiated or not, to the DOE.

In addition, parents and students can call a hotline, manned full-time by a staff member in Biden’s office, if they are unsure whether to report a bullying claim to the school, law enforcement, or both (the number is 1-800-220-5414).

Though the AG’s office wouldn’t comment on specific instances, this legislation was introduced just weeks after three students committed suicide within a month of each other at Polytech High School.

Though the legislation isn’t designed to specifically address cyber-bullying — the practice of verbal and emotional abuse using the Internet and social media — Biden said that anyone who feels bullied, even outside of the context of school, should call the hotline to see what action should be taken.

“There’s no magic fix for bullying, much as all of us wish there were one,” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, a prime sponsor of the legislation.

“But these changes will increase accountability on the part of our schools and conspicuous posting of the bullying hotline number, I think, will give parents another tool to address this problem.”

erothstein@dmg.gannett.com

302-537-1881, ext. 206

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