CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, a much needed reminder for more than 100 school districts in Northeast Ohio who appear to be non-compliant with a state law requiring schools to publish semi-annual bully, harassment and intimation reports (BIH Reports) on each district's website.
Our investigative team searched the websites of 160 public school districts in 13 northeast Ohio counties for the required semi-annual Bully, Harassment and Intimidation (BIH) report. We used search engines on and off the district's website and found in many districts, more than half do not have a report visible online, or the reports are outdated.
State Senator Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, is one of two state lawmakers sponsoring anti-bullying legislation. We asked her about the slacker schools who aren't complying. Williams says she would check with the State Department of Education to find out who dropped the ball on checking for district compliance of ORC 3313.666. She said she did not believe there was a system of checks and balances to make sure each district was complying with the law.
"State law is in place because we want to make sure students are safe in the school. If a school district is intentionally not reporting bullying and intimidation, I think they should be held accountable," says Senator Williams. " We will deal with the issue right away," assured Williams.
During the 2016-2017 school year, more than 17,000 disciplinary incidents of harassment and intimidation were reported to the Ohio Department of Education via student discipline reports. According to the Ohio Department of Education EMIS Manual, schools should report disciplinary incidents for bullying, harassment, intimidation, hazing and threat of harm under the category "Harassment/Intimidation."
Even when school districts accurately report the number of BIH incidents on their websites, they sometimes report inaccurate information to the state. Take Euclid City Schools for instance. Their website shows only two BIH incidents last year, but the district reported over 200 incidents involving discipline for BIH to the state. We brought the discrepancy to the attention of Euclid City Schools Superintendent Charles Smialek, who thanked us for bringing the matter to his attention.
According to Smialek, "The discrepancy is a result of our data reporting procedures. Our procedure has allowed teachers to check from a list of behaviors their interpretation of the student's action." Smialek adds, "As we looked through last year's incidents many were clearly incorrectly categorized by teachers. The teacher checked H/I/B but the incident appears to be disruption, profanity, etc. The administrator should have corrected the final categorization of the behavior after their investigation concluded that it did not meet the definition of HIB."
Smialek says the district plans to "clarify with our administrators to only finalize a reported behavior as HIB if it, indeed, meets the Board of Education policy's definition.
This will resolve the discrepancy between teacher original interpretations and actual reports to ODE."
Cleveland 19 has also reached out to Akron Public Schools, who appears to be among the more than 100 districts not complying with posting the most current BIH reports on their district's website.
The school district, like Euclid City Schools, reported a high number of BIH disciplinary reports to ODE in comparison to student enrollment under the Harassment / Intimidation category of student discipline.
In an email, Akron Public Schools says their updates are running a semester behind.
According to the district's spokesman, Akron "needs to run a semester behind because we continuously get in past-semester reports, so we end up amending our reports multiple times due to late submitted content.
We keep a reasonably calculated database of these events though so they can be readily available for the prior semester."
The definition of Harassment / Intimidation according to the Ohio Department of Education's Education Management Information System (EMIS) is as follows:
Repeatedly annoying or attacking using physical, verbal, written, or electronic action that creates fear of harm, an intimidating or hostile education or work environment, without displaying a weapon and without subjecting the victim to actual physical attack (i.e., bullying, hazing, threat of harm).