News Story

Law Requires Public Schools To Report Bullying, Not All Do

With 50,000 students, Detroit reports just five incidents

A tiny Southwest Michigan school district with just 288 students reported 454 incidents of bullying in a recent school year. About 140 miles to the east, the state’s largest school district has 50,210 students, and it reported only five incidents.

The Michigan Department of Education recently released its report on the number of bullying incidents in 2017-18, and it shows a tremendous disparity in what is being reported around the state. It was the second year that the state has tracked information on bullying, which school districts are required to submit to the department under a bill that became law in 2014.

There were 200 school districts out of 888 traditional school districts and charter school buildings that reported no incidents of bullying in 2017-18. Some of these reports were inaccurate or erroneous. For example, Grand Rapids Public Schools, which had 16,298 students, didn’t report a single case of bullying.

But according to Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman John Helmholdt, the district actually experienced 150 reportable incidents of bullying or harassment last school year. Helmholdt said there was a technical error in the reporting that the district was working to fix.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District, which reported just five incidents of bullying, cited the transition from state control as a reason for its low number.

“As has been described, several systems and processes were lacking under emergency management, along with proper monitoring and accountability,” said district spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson. “Inputting incidents was an example. The new administration noted this and created a task force to update the Code of Conduct and trained school-level leadership this past spring on the Code and reinforced the need to input all incidents in the database. The inputting of incidents in the database has already improved this year.”

Statewide, there were 16,093 incidents of bullying reported in 2017-18.

The Lansing School District, which had 10,604 students, reported 590 bullying incidents.

“Lansing encourages reporting. Information is important for responsive action,” said Robert Kolt, spokesman for the district.

The Michigan Department of Education is required to provide districts with a form and procedures, but department officials said they have no authority to verify the accuracy of the information that districts turn in.

“State law requires districts to report bullying incidents, but allows for self-reporting and local control of the results,” said Bill Disessa, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education. “The law gives MDE no verification authority over reported data.”

Disessa added that local school districts decide what to report based on their understanding of what constitutes bullying.

A 2018 report released by ranked Michigan ninth nationally for bullying, based on 2017 data.

State law defines bullying as follows:

“Bullying” means any written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication, including, but not limited to, cyberbullying, that is intended or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm 1 or more pupils either directly or indirectly by doing any of the following:

(i) Substantially interfering with educational opportunities, benefits, or programs of 1 or more pupils.

(ii) Adversely affecting the ability of a pupil to participate in or benefit from the school district’s or public school’s educational programs or activities by placing the pupil in reasonable fear of physical harm or by causing substantial emotional distress.

(iii) Having an actual and substantial detrimental effect on a pupil’s physical or mental health.

(iv) Causing substantial disruption in, or substantial interference with, the orderly operation of the school.