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Bullying a major problem in area schools

Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Education,Lisa Gartner

Half of students say teasing, intimidation an issue


School officials are trying to curb bullying in Washington-area schools, which persists as a major problem -- from vandalized property to racial remarks -- new school surveys show.

Fifty-six percent of Fairfax County Public Schools students said they had been bullied, taunted, teased or ridiculed in the past year, and half of the 49 percent of students who admitted to bullying or taunting said they did so more than just once or twice.

At every middle school in D.C. Public Schools, at least 60 percent of students said they are "made fun of for the way they look or talk" often or sometimes.

In Montgomery County, 54 percent of public middle school students said bullying was a problem in their schools; 46 percent of high school students said the same.

The numbers across jurisdictions have barely budged in recent years -- and in some cases, worsened -- leading school officials to ramp up counseling and explore other intervention strategies.

What kids say about bullying
Fairfax County Public Schools 8th, 10th, and 12th graders
  2005 2008 2009 2010*
In the past year, have you one or times...
Been bullied, taunted, teased or ridiculed 51.2% 59.7% 50.8% 56.2%
Had something bad said about your race or culture 37.8% 52.1% 42.9% 48.7%
Been cyberbullied by a student at same schooln/a n/a 11.7% 12.5%
On the flip side, have you one or more times...
Bullied, taunted, teased or ridiculed 50.1% 64.1% 50.3% 49.4%
Said something bad about someone's race or culture 35.8% 50.5% 40.5% 43.0%
Cyberbullied another student attending your school n/a n/a 9.7% 8.8%
*The 2010 survey's methodology changed to throw out student response sheets with inconsistent, impossible, or extemely incomplete answers. The county warns against making comparisons to past years for this reason. Prior to 2009, the survey did not include cyberbullying.
Montgomery County
Middle schools - percent of students who agreed or strongly agreed
  2005 2008 2009 2010*
I feel safe at school 77.6% 80.8% 78.8% 82.8%
My belongings are safe in this school 54% 59.3% 56.4% 64.0%
Students in this school are well-behaved 35.1% 39.2% 35.6% 40.8%
I can work in my classroom without being bothered by other students. 50.9% 52.3% 50.0% 54.4%
In this school, students teasing other students is a problem.n/a 65.0% 64.8% 61.3%
In this school, students bullying other students is a problem. n/a 56.7% 56.4% 53.5
High schools - percent of students who agreed or strongly agreed
I feel safe at school 78.3% 78.0% 77.0% 78.9%
My belongings are safe in this school 39.7% 40.8% 38.8% 42.1%
Students in this school are well-behaved 45.1% 45.7% 42.1% 45.2%
I can work in my classroom without being bothered by other students. 62.0% 58.6% 56.9% 60.7%
In this school, students teasing other students is a problem.n/a 55.1% 53.9% 52.9%
In this school, students bullying other students is a problem. n/a 47.3% 45.9% 46.3
Source: Montgomery County Public Schools

In November, Fairfax school officials will introduce seven keys to bullying prevention -- like daily education -- that schools must embrace by September. Currently, each school has its own anti-bullying program, but the district wants a systematic approach, said Mary Ann Panarelli, director of intervention and prevention services.

On the just-released Fairfax County Youth Survey, most students said they had been bullied or ridiculed in the past year. The majority who admitted to bullying said they did it once or twice. But 11 percent of Fairfax students bullied their peers 20 or more times, while 6.5 percent owned up to 40 or more instances.

Almost half of Fairfax students said they had heard derogatory remarks about their race or culture from a classmate in the past year, while 43 percent of Fairfax students admitted to making the comments.

"In the years following Sept. 11, our Muslim kids said they had people saying things to them about their religion, and we have a significant Arab population," Panarelli said. "We haven't been able to tease out whether it's a particular group or others."

In D.C., more than half of students at every stand-alone middle school said fights occurred "often" or "sometimes"-- Eliot Hine and Shaw topped out at 81 and 80 percent, respectively.

At Woodrow Wilson Senior High, 85 percent of students said students damaged or stole other students' property at least sometimes. At Ballou, 73 percent said students were teased for the way they looked or acted often or sometimes.

The District and South Dakota are the only "states" without anti-bullying laws. Legislation introduced last year went nowhere, and the D.C. council has yet to act on a similar proposal this session.

Montgomery's public schools have ramped up their reporting of bullying thanks to a Maryland law. Instances of bullying on school property increased from 248 in the 2009-2010 school year to 361 last year, said Brenda Wilks, MCPS's director of student services.

Staff is trained every year, and a number of concerts -- "anti-bullying pulpits" -- have helped spread the message that it's cool to be nice, Wilks said. But she was not sure why school surveys continue to show a troubling presence of bullies.

"To answer that is the million dollar question," said Wilks. "It's an unfortunate thing that we have in front of us."

Parents tend to underestimate how prevalent bullying is in their children's schools. Only 37 percent of parents of middle-schoolers said teasing was a problem for their child, in contrast to 54 percent of students. The spread was 16 percentage points for high schoolers.

"My kids come home and act like everything's fine so I think there's no problem, but they could be having a problem and not sharing it," said Susan Burkinshaw, a Northwest High School and Great Seneca Creek Elementary parent. "The kids are living it. The parents aren't living it, so they don't know."

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