Bad news for bullies in Baltimore County public schools—suspensions are increasing among students who intimidate and harass their classmates.
A report released during Tuesday night's Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education meeting detailed the county's efforts to combat bullying, action mandated by the state's Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005.
The county's anti-bullying efforts include preventative measures and swift disciplinary actions—including suspension—according to Glenda Myrick, the county schools coordinator of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, who presented the report to the board.
Reported incidents of bullying have increased more than 350 percent between 2007 and 2011, going from 142 to 510. During that same time, suspensions related to bullying have nearly doubled, rising from 248 to 474, according to the report.
School officials attribute much of the rapid growth in reporting to a rule change in 2009 that allowed the system to count incidents reported by faculty members. Previously, only reports made by students and family members were counted, Myrick said.
As more students have access to the Internet and cell phones, cyberbullying has also emerged as a concern. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have increasingly become avenues of intimidation and harassment, according to the report.
"It starts in elementary school, but the greatest trend is in middle school," Myrick said.
Bullying is most commonly reported among seventh-graders, she added.
"Character education" programs, especially in the county's elementary schools, are intended to help curb the problem among rising middle school students, Myrick said.
"The key is intervention and to get out in front of the issue—we really have to be proactive," board President said during the presentation.
Board member asked if bullying incidents have led to lawsuits against the county. The board's legal counsel confirmed that there are multiple pending lawsuits.
"It's part of a national trend and has gained a great deal of attention," said Superintendent following the meeting. "I think those lawsuits tend to be designed to help people seek some kind of help and support."
Hairston said he was unable to comment on the number of pending lawsuits against the county because it is a legal issue.
He emphasized the county's ongoing efforts toward combating bullying.
"You can have good instruction when there's a healthy climate, when kids get along well with each other. Addressing those social issues is just as important as the academic," he said.
Have you noticed an increase in bullying at your child's school? Share your advice for dealing with bullying in the comments.