Report: Louisiana students are most bullied

Students in Louisiana experience the most bullying in the U.S. according a ranking of state bullying programs by the personal-finance website WalletHub. Its 2018’s “States with the Biggest Bullying Problems” notes that Louisiana ranks first in bullying prevalence, second worst for bullying impact and treatment, and 32nd for its anti-bullying laws.

WalletHub created the survey to bring awareness about the effects of bullying and state anti-bullying policies. It measured the prevalence and prevention of bullying in 47 states and the District of Columbia, evaluated each according to 20 key metrics, including its “bullying-incident rate,” “truancy costs for schools,” and “share of high school students bullied online.” The study excludes Minnesota, Oregon and Washington due to data limitations.

The CDC reported in 2017 that 19 percent of students in grades 9-12 said they were bullied on school property; 14.9 percent surveyed said they were cyber-bullied. In Louisiana, WalletHub found that its high school students are the fifth-most bullied on school property and the most bullied online in the country.

Louisiana high school students are the most likely to be involved in a physical fight at school, WalletHub reports, and are the second most likely to miss school for fear of being bullied. Additionally, Louisiana high school students have the highest percentage of suicide attempts in the country, the report notes.

“Unfortunately, this has grim consequences for high school students, as almost 17 percent have attempted suicide in the past year,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told Watchdog.org. “And it only gets worse, because Louisiana has the fewest psychologists per capita, the state has no laws regulating the mandatory nature of school resource officers, and there are no centers for youth violence prevention.”

According to a 2017 report produced by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE), an analysis of statewide data of reported bullying cases presents conflicting information. For example, according to the LDE’s recent analysis of data submitted for the five-year reporting period, “the greatest number of bullying incidences reported involves verbal aggression.” Verbal aggression is defined, and not limited to, name-calling, threats, taunts, and/or spreading false rumors, the LDE states. According to the data, reported incidences of verbal aggression nearly doubled those of physical aggression during the same time period.

Since 2010, after the state Legislature passed R.S. 17:416.13, every public school was required to develop and implement an anti-bullying policy. Local education agencies (LEAs) – traditional school systems and charter schools – also implemented training programs for new and continuing district personnel who have contact with students. And the LDE and the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) developed and adopted rules and regulations for LEAs to implement procedures and policies used to report and investigate bullying.

In 2012, Act 861 became law, requiring employees to participate in training to learn how to detect, prevent and respond to bullying. Guidelines were established for school personnel, including best practices for engaging with parents and students, and school board members were required to receive annual training.

The LDE published “Reporting and Investigating Incidences of Bullying” in October 2012, and has since provided analysis of statewide bullying data to the legislature.

The LDE also developed the Bullying Prevention Toolkit to provide anti-bullying resources to school districts. Partnering with the U.S. Department of Education, it developed research-based training for teachers and school personnel to learn how to create a safe and respectful environment in the classroom.

LDE spokeswoman Sydni Dunn told Watchdog.org that the department “strives to ensure that all students have a safe learning environment so that they are able to reach their full potential.”

Ongoing training includes the state’s bullying prevention webinar, which focuses on strategies for preventing bullying with an emphasis on overall school climate. Participants are taught how to recognize signs of potential bullying and provide support and intervention. It also provides bullying resources for children.

The LDE’s most recent report to the legislature notes that while incidences of bullying in public schools declined over a three-year period, and although 68 out of 93 LEAs that submitted data reported a decrease in bullying, there was an overall increase of 146 reported incidences in 2015-16.

The LDE argues that the number of reported incidences is expected to fluctuate as the LEAs continue to train all school personnel in preventing and identifying incidences of bullying. Additionally, LEAs are working on improving their reporting and data collection.

In addition to state and local parish efforts, members of the community are providing anti-bullying tools. This spring, a Shreveport elementary school unveiled a new anti-bullying tool: a buddy bench donated by AmeriHealth Caritas Louisiana. If students “feel sad” or “like they’ve been picked on,” they can sit on the bench. By doing so, they let others know that they need someone to talk to, which creates a safe environment for students, according to the school.

The LDE reports that “Multi-tiered approaches, such as interventions that target the victim or the bully that incorporate universal classroom and school level interventions, appear to be the most effective. In Louisiana, the focus has been on training school personnel to recognize the signs of bullying, identifying potential victims of bullying to intervene early, and implementing proven interventions to understand the link between bullying and suicides.”

The LDE also collaborates with the Louisiana Department of Health to provide information and materials on suicide prevention to schools.

First published by Watchdog News.

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