By Chaneé Patterson
RICHMOND, VA. – How common is bullying? Very.
Nationwide, 17 percent of students – about one in six – reported having been bullied during the past school year, according to the American Psychological Association. That’s based on a survey of more than 15,000 U.S. students in grades six through 10.
“Bullying at school is an age-old problem and until recently, many took the ‘children will be children’ attitude toward the problem,” the association says on its web site. “However, school violence cases – including the Columbine school shooting tragedy – highlight the serious and sometime deadly consequences of bullying behavior.”
The U.S. Department of Education has also studied the prevalence of bullying. It found that during the 2008-2009 school year, the proportion of students who reported being bullied ranged from 39 percent in the sixth grade to 20 percent in the 12th grade.
Virginia public schools reported 6,118 incidents of bullying last year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
The department defines bullying as “using repeated negative behaviors intended to frighten or cause harm. These may include, but are not limited to, verbal or written threats or physical harm.”
Every year, school divisions must report to the VDOE the number of incidents of discipline, crime and violence that occur on school property, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored activity.
Bullying represented about 43 percent of the total 14,357 incidents against students reported for the 2010-2011 school year. Bullying was the most common type of incident against students – well ahead of threats and intimidation (30 percent) and assaults without a weapon (26 percent).
According to the VDOE’s annual report, released in March, there were 838 more bullying incidents statewide during the 2010-2011 school year than during the previous year. That represented a 16 percent increase in bullying cases.
As a general rule, the larger school divisions reported the highest number of bullying incidents. Fairfax County public schools, for example, reported 516; Prince William County schools, 373; and Henrico County schools, 372.
A different pattern emerges, however, when school enrollment is taken into account.
The Lancaster County school division in the Northern Neck area reported 76 bullying incidents per 1,000 students – the highest rate in the state. (Lancaster County enrolls 1,321 students and reported 100 incidents of bullying during the 2010-11 school year.)
Statewide, there were about 5 bullying incidents for every 1,000 students.
The VDOE recognizes that data may differ from school system to school system depending on how local officials define bullying in their codes of student conduct.
It’s not just the numbers of bullying incidents but the effect of bullying that concerns state officials.
Bullying has a range of negative effects on students’ learning and health, according to a study that the VDOE completed in January for the General Assembly.
It said bullied students tend to withdraw from classroom participation, stop doing homework and get “lower grades than students that were not regular targets of bullying behavior.”
In Virginia, students’ standardized test scores were lower in schools with more severe bulling, the VDOE report said. It said bullying can also trigger “depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and an increased tendency to crime.”
Bullying affects not just the victims but also the perpetrators.
“Students who regularly bully during their middle school years, without intervention, are three times as likely to have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24,” the VDOE study said.
On the Web
To view the Virginia Department of Education’s annual reports on discipline, crime and violence, visit www.doe.virginia.gov/statistics_reports/school_climate/
Also, a spreadsheet of bullying statistics is available at http://tinyurl.com/va-bullying2.
An HTML version of the statistics, with an interactive graphic, is available at http://tinyurl.com/va-bullying3.