Yep, you read that right. This is good news. Of the 735,000 students in Alabama’s K-12 public schools during the 2011-2012 school year, the number of incidents of harassment was only………
………….Wait for it…………
That is less than 1/10 of one percent of the population that school year.
The adults in our schools must be doing an exceptional job keeping harassment out of our schools. And obviously our parents and families are doing everything right to have so few incidents of harassment. Our legislature deserves some of the credit, of course, for having passed the Student Harassment Prevention Act in 2009. It has obviously worked.
If you believe the data, that is.
Is The Data Real?
Well, that is the question. It is “real”, in that it is what school officials have reported to the ALSDE. The better question is whether the data, and thus the reporting, accurately reflects what is happening in our schools.
Here’s a report from 2012 taking a first look at Alabama’s student harassment prevention law. I questioned the numbers then. And the numbers are still questionable.
The Student Harassment Prevention Act of 2009 requires each school to report “actual violence, submitted reports of threats of violence, and harassment” annually to the ALSDE. Alabama schools report those incidents through the Student Incident Report (SIR). Here is the manual explaining how incidents should be defined and reported.
The ALSDE has produced the “Harassment Prevention Act” (HPA) report for the past two years. Here is the 2011-2012 HPA report. And here is the 2010-2011 HPA report. The 2012-2013 data was due in June, but I guess it’s not available yet. Be careful comparing one year’s data to the next, as the report’s parameters have obviously changed.
I found this note in the heading of the 2010-2011 HPA report:
“Statistics for harassment as defined by the Student Harassment Prevention Act could not be separated from the overall School Incident Report from the 2010-2011 school year. Specific incidents of a continuous pattern of intentional behavior that takes place on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored function are included in these general categories. Currently, the number of specific incidents will be reported within these related categories. The 2011-2012 SIR report should allow for the identification of the specific incidents as defined in the Student Harassment Prevention Act.”
Oh. So the 2010-2011 HPA report didn’t accurately capture what the law said to capture. That year four categories were reported: fighting, harassment, threats and intimidation, and sexual harassment.
The 2011-2012 HPA report more accurately captures what the law requires, if we believe what we read. That year’s report has a category entitled “Incidents Involving Harassment” where schools are not only including some (but not all) “Harassment” incidents, but are also picking certain incidents out of various categories where “Harassment” was part of the incident.
Sounds like somebody needs to make a new category. Or better define the old category of “Harassment”. Or something.
What the Data Says About Bullying in Alabama’s Schools
Ok. So if we can’t rely on the data to tell us what the law wanted us to know, we can at least look at the “Harassment” data from both years to see what’s happening there. The 2011-2012 “Harassment” (as opposed to “Incidents Involving Harassment”) data is on the full SIR. The 2010-2011 “Harassment” data is on the HPA report.
This data is comparable because the ALSDE’s definition of “Harassment” as indicated in the SIR manual hasn’t changed. The “Harassment” category is clearly identified as the place to report bullying. From Page 3:
Here is the manual’s glossary containing the full definition of harassment for reporting purposes:
So let’s see how our school districts are doing. [No, this is not a measurement where percentage should be considered, as it shouldn’t matter that one system may have more students than another. Each child’s experience counts as one.] The table is sortable, unless you’re using Chrome.
|Fort Payne City||2||3||(1)|
|Mountain Brook City||1||4||(3)|
|Muscle Shoals City||19||22||(3)|
|St Clair County||33||49||(16)|
|Vestavia Hills City||5||0||5|
[Please let me know if there are any errors in this data. Downloading and manipulating it is cumbersome.]
The total number of incidents of bullying and/or harassment in Alabama’s schools, according to the data reported by our school officials, was 5,044 for the 2011-2012 school year. Still less than one percent. Which is absolutely amazing considering that the average percent of students who are bullied at school are between 11% and 25% in any given year.
Fifty-six of the then-132 school systems reported fewer than 10 bullying or harassment incidents. Twenty-two systems reported no bullying or harassment in their schools.
Either our Alabama schools are exceptionally bully- and harassment-free, or somebody’s not reporting the real numbers.
Florida found their school districts were widely underreporting the number of bullying incidents. This is a look at how it was uncovered in Florida and the problems that contribute to underreporting.
This data should be more than enough evidence to compel serious anti-bullying advocates to take a look at Alabama’s current law and school officials’ compliance with the reporting requirements.
[Check the Anti-Bullying category for more information about Bullying and Harassment Prevention.]
ADDED RESOURCES 10/01/13: Here are couple more documents reviewing Alabama’s anti-bullying regulations: