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Bullying numbers seem off in Harford County [editorial]

Schools

It remains to be seen the degree to which bullying is a problem in Harford County Public Schools, but a few numbers indicate local schools are either the most harmonious in Maryland or something is askew with regard to the reporting process.

The statewide number of bullying incidents reported to the state under the terms of the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005 for the 2011-12 academic year was 5,213.

If that total is divided by the number of public school systems in Maryland — 24 in all — the average number of bullying incidents per county comes out to 217. Harford County's total reported number of bullying cases for the same academic year was 82.

It's worth noting that comparing Harford County's total to a per county average is entirely unfair; strictly speaking, the average should be weighted based on county size. That, however, would make the expected number of cases from Harford County substantially higher than 217, even as it is substantially lower.

In recent years, with the explosion of social media, opportunities for psychological bullying have exploded. Whereas in the era when many school administrators grew up, making a nasty comment about a fellow student happened one-on-one, or in a small group, it is now possible for one person to distribute such a comment to the entire student body – and, at least in theory, the whole rest of the world.

A rude statement that would have been hurtful, but isolated, 25 years ago is in an entirely different category when it's posted on the Internet. Add in the options for photos – including doctored photos – to be put online, and then endless opportunities for comments, and the effect is magnified.

In other words, bad behavior that could have been easily dismissed by another generation has, thanks to technology, become almost impossible to ignore. Does a rude comment, or a series of nasty statements, constitute bullying? Maybe not 25 years ago, but amplified by the Internet, there's a good chance it does these days.

Possibly, attitudes that haven't changed to take technology into account are behind Harford County's low bullying case numbers reported to the state. It may also be that some other factor is in play. It is unlikely, however, that Harford County's reporting of 82 cases to the state for an entire academic year accurately reflects reality.

One way or another, the school system needs to figure out why the local numbers are so low.

And if it turns out that 82 is the correct number (a number that amounts to fewer than two bullying cases per school per year), then Harford County Public Schools should be given an award and its secret shared with the rest of the world.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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