The statistics are staggering.
During the 2009-10 public school year in Oklahoma, there were 15,967 incidents of bullying and 648 of those resulted in physical injury, according to school-reported incident data collected by the state Education Department.
Bullying incidents at school resulting in physical injuries
• 2008-09: 265.
• 2009-10: 648.
Bullying incidents at school without physical injuries
• 2008-09: 10,591.
• 2009-10: 15,319.
Source: Self-reported school incident data collected by the state Education Department
For children 12 to 18
• 31.7 percent of children reported being bullied at school.
• 36 percent of those bullied said they notified an adult.
• 21 percent of those said they were made fun of and called names.
• 18.1 percent said they were the subject of rumors.
• 11 percent said they were pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on.
• 5.8 percent said they were threatened with harm.
How often bullied
• 62.6 percent said they were bullied once or twice in the past year.
• 20.7 percent said once or twice a month.
• 10.1 percent said once or twice a week.
• 6.6 percent said every day.
Source: 2007 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey published by the National Center for Education Statistics
Online: For more information, go to the Department of Education website at www.sde.state.ok.us/Schools/SafeHealthy.
But there’s more to the story than numbers, Kirk Smalley, of Perkins, told a group meeting last week at the state Capitol to form tougher anti-bullying legislation.
Smalley is the dad of Ty Field, an 11-year-old boy who shot and killed himself on May 13 after reportedly being bullied at school earlier in the day.
“What I want you to remember is that for every number you hear, you’re hearing about someone’s baby,” Smalley said. “You’re talking about children’s lives.”
Since Ty’s suicide, Smalley has been pushing for a more stringent anti-bullying law in Oklahoma that includes, among other things, mandatory training for teachers, administrators and other school staff.
Such legislation appears to be coming together. A task force led by Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, and composed of parents, students, state officials and others, has met twice in the past two months.
Pittman said she hopes to have a detailed outline of what the legislation will include by the end of the month.
“We hope to develop some legislation that will not only be stronger or tougher but also doable,” she said. “We have our work cut out for us.”
In 2007, 32 percent of children ages 12 to 18 in the United States said they were bullied at school, according to figures released in November by the National Center for Education Statistics. About 9 percent of those who said they were bullied also reported that it caused physical injury.
A new term: bullycide
There is no statistic for how many children committed suicide after reportedly being bullied, but it’s common enough that a term has been coined to explain the phenomenon: Bullycide.
While noting that the cause and effect between bullying and suicide is not fully understood, Jessica Hawkins, director of prevention at the Oklahoma Mental Health Department, used the term bullycide in describing how bullying can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24 in Oklahoma.
Looking at the law
Forty-five states, including Oklahoma, have anti-bullying statutes. Oklahoma’s current law was adopted in 2002 and amended in 2008. It requires schools to have policies and procedures in place.
Pittman said the law needs to be revamped in several areas. She plans to introduce an anti-bullying bill of rights in Ty Field’s name.
She would like to see a system that tracks students accused of being bullies, requires counseling and mandates training and action on complaints by school staff and administrators.
“People come to the table with a sense of hopelessness and they feel powerless,” she said. “They feel that they have no recourse because of the way the school system is designed.”
She would like to see a uniform policy to which schools must adhere.
“Some of those policies that schools have adopted … they’re not enforced, or they’re not measured,” she said. “There’s no time frame after an incident has been reported that the incident must be addressed.”
At the task force meeting, part of the discussion was devoted to recently adopted anti-bullying legislation in New Jersey.
The law, considered the toughest yet, gained momentum after Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide in September. Clementi’s roommate was accused of putting a video on the Internet of Clementi having a sexual encounter with a man.
Going to the next level
The law requires training for most public school employees, including local school board members, on how to spot bullying; mandates that local superintendents have to report incidents of bullying to the state Board of Education, which would grade schools and districts on their efforts to combat it; authorizes discipline for administrators who do not investigate reported incidents; and requires school employees to report all incidents they learn of, whether they took place inside or outside of school.
“We are merging best practices, but we want to first look at what we already have and why it’s not working,” Pittman said. “Bullying has gone to the next level. It’s no longer slurs and gestures.”