There were 82 reported cases of alleged bullying and/or intimidation in Harford County Public Schools in the 2011-12 school year, according to a state-mandated reporting process.
In an effort to help parents better deal with bullying if it happens to their child, a small group met at the Aberdeen Senior Center Wednesday night to inform parents about the proper protocol and procedures for reporting bullying in Harford County Public Schools.
Only a few people attended, despite recent Facebook comments by Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett that there is an alleged bullying problem at Aberdeen High School. Bennett has scheduled another public forum on bullying for Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Aberdeen City Hall at 60 N. Parke St.
Wednesday's meeting also served as a public forum for one Aberdeen family that has filed a lawsuit alleging their son has been bullied and they've faced retaliation for reporting the allegations.
Amy Lindecamp, 41, of Aberdeen, passed out copies of the Bullying, Harassment or Intimidation Investigation Procedures for the Harford County Public Schools to the group. Lindecamp said parents need to be properly informed to help their kids, who are facing bullying in the classroom.
"I am informing parents because through my own personal experience this information had not been made readily available when I reported that my son was being bullied at Aberdeen High School," Lindecamp said. "I had done verbal reports, written reports, police reports, but I didn't know this protocol was even in place."
After the passage of the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005 by the Maryland General Assembly, the Maryland State Department of Education is required to collect data on reported cases of bullying, harassment or intimidation in Maryland public schools and to report that information annually to the General Assembly.
Data is collected from the Victim of Bullying, Harassment, or Intimidation Form, which are available at http://www.hcps.org/cybersafety/, posted on the website, distributed at the beginning of the school year, and at multiple locations in the school building, including offices, media centers and cafeterias.
Based on submitted forms, school principals or "principal's designee" determines if the incident is considered a violation of the school system's bullying policies.
According to Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, despite what some have claimed, school principals are not evaluated based on the number of forms deemed violations and submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education. Kranefeld said bullying and harassment statistics are also not part of a criteria to determine if a school is considered unsafe.
"The classification [of unsafe] is based on a percentage of issues in a three year time span," Kranefeld said in an email. "The status is determined by taking the total number of suspensions of more than 10 days following violations must equal 2.5 percent or more of the total number of students per school."
Across the state, 5,213 incidents were reported during the 2011-2012 school year, which is 535 more incidents than reported during the 2010-2011 school year and 1,395 more than were reported from 2009-2010.
Harford has nearly 38,000 students enrolled in 55 schools as of Sept. 30 and there were 82 incidents of bullying, harassment or intimidation reported during the 2011-2012 school year. From the 2010-2011 school year, 54 incidents were reported and in the 2009-2010 school year 89 were reported.
"There's no way we hear about so many incidents of bullying happening in Harford County, yet so few of them are being documented," Lindecamp said.
Kranefeld said the reporting and discipline process for addressing bullying is uniform across the county, governed by the Bullying, Cyberbullying, Harassment or Intimidation of Students policy.
But, the method Harford schools use to provide awareness on the impact of bullying is independently decided by the individual school. In October, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice spoke to students at Bel Air High School during an anti-bullying assembly.
"The delivery method regarding awareness campaign messages is a decision made by the school based on the needs of the school community," Kranefeld said in a email. "The message is consistent and the information can be found on the school system website."
Arthur F. Kaff, a member of the Harford County School Board of Education, attended the session.
"I came here to listen because I am concerned about bullying as is related to policy issues in Harford County," Kaff said to the group.
Lindecamp and her family have been outspoken about their allegations of bullying at Aberdeen High School. In a pending federal suit, Lindecamp and her husband, Tim, accuse Harford school officials of failing to protect their son, a special needs student at Aberdeen High School, and retaliating against them. Tim Lindecamp is the Aberdeen High athletic director.
According to the 2013 Bullying, Harassment or Intimidation Report, middle school students between the ages of 11 and 13 are the majority of the victims of bullying in Maryland. The report states that 87.1 percent of bullying occurs on school property.
Lisa Lopez, 38, of Aberdeen, who has two children enrolled in Aberdeen High School, said the bullying problem in Harford County is not only students bullying students, but also teachers and administrators bullying and/or intimidating students.
Lindecamp said she believes the low parent turnout at Wednesday evening's meeting is a direct correlation to the intimidation parents feel by the school's administration to the difficulties their children may face if they become a whistle blower about bullying.
"I receive dozens of e-mails a day from parents, in Harford County and other counties like Baltimore County, who are experiencing similar situation at their schools," Lindecamp said. "I try to coach them through the proper protocol, but so many of them are afraid to make the next move."