Jefferson County public school officials say the district’s efforts to combat bullying are resulting in more incident reports—but also more targeted approaches in schools.
In 2011, JCPS and many school districts stepped up their campaigns to address bullying. The school district revised its student behavior code to include a clear definition of what bullying is, aligning it with similar definitions used in other urban school districts, said Jackie Wisman, director of the JCPS Safe and Drug Free School Office.
That also included a request that schools and students report any incidents that resemble bullying, even if it doesn't result in any discipline like a suspension, he said.
“Regardless of whether it turned out to be bullying or not we were going to investigate and make sure our students felt safe and included,” Wisman says.
Data recorded in Infinite Campus—a parent and teacher online portal that now includes the definition of bullying—shows this resulted in an increase in the number of reports, from 538 in 2010, which was the last full year recorded before JCPS changed its student behavior code—to 621 in 2011 and 751 in 2012.
“Of course with heightened awareness we did get a spike at first in reporting. Now, that doesn’t mean that suspensions went up. I’m just saying that anytime, like if Jackie and Devin went into the office that was put into Infinite Campus and we can keep track of it,” he says.
Actually, suspensions have recently decreased over previous years, according to district data.
But despite the rise in number of reports, Wisman says it's—in a way—something to be proud of because now students and educators are reporting incidents.
“We want to know about everything. We want to know anytime you even just had a conference with a kid,” he says.
The additional emphasis on bullying also means JCPS is using the data to target incidents more directly and to find trends—like the fact that bullying incidents seem to happen most at the middle school level—and help schools respond more quickly, Wisman says.
“We contact each individual school and say, look, we’re starting to notice that we’re getting a lot of reports that this is going on at this hallway during this class change and those schools will try to put policies in place to try and address that,” he says.
So far this year there have been 61 bullying reports, which puts the district on pace to have only 400 recorded incidents. But Wisman says the district always sees a spike in activity during the week leading up to Thanksgiving and Spring Break.
“We will continue our efforts. We’re not going to think it’s ever solved because it isn’t. It’ll rear its ugly head and then we’ll have to address it again.”
Wisman will address bullying issues Wednesday in a free discussion at the University of Louisville, with Brandies Law School Dean Susan Duncan.
The talk is free and open to the public. It will take place at 12 p.m. in the law school's Room LL80.
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