The number of reports of Kentucky public school students bullying, harassing or threatening others more than tripled from 2012 to 2015.
The preliminary results were in school safety data that the Office of Education Accountability staff presented last week to lawmakers on the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee.
The number of reported violations could be due to increased reporting requirements as well as increased violations, OEA acting director Karen Timmel told the Herald-Leader.
Reasons behind the increase will be explored in 2016 in the final report, Timmel said.
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At the meeting, state Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, a member of the panel, asked for a deeper look at threats to school staff in the final study.
"We all know if we do not have a safe environment, children do not learn well," Belcher said. She said she was concerned "that we have this much going on in our schools."
Fayette County Public Schools officials didn't have comparable numbers available Friday.
Data for Fayette County on the Kentucky Department of Education website shows that the number of harassment reports, including bullying, increased from 1,169 in 2012-13 to 1,432 in 2014-15.
The OEA's preliminary findings for Kentucky showed that in 2012, there were a total of 6,782 reports of bullying, harassment and threatening behavior violations. By 2014, that number had tripled. There were an additional 908 incidents in 2015, according to a Legislative Research Commission news release.
Beginning in 2014 a new school violation — threatening another student — began to be tracked. That year, there were more than 1,600 threat incidents reported, comprising 8 percent of the total violations for that year.
Harassment reports increased the most in 2014, by about 2,500 incidents, accounting for 45 percent of the total incidents that year, the news release said.
This past school year, the incidents of threatening another student almost doubled and threats to staff were up, officials said.
In 2014-15, nearly 6,500 school violations were reported in elementary schools. That's 32 percent of the total violations that year. Fifty-nine percent of those violations were from bullying.
The violations committed by middle school students account for 49 percent of the total violations and account for almost 10,000 incidents. At the middle school level, harassment was the biggest problem reported, OEA analyst Sabrina Olds told the legislative panel.
The fewest violations occurred in high schools.
Aside from the data, Jon Akers, director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, said in an interview that he's aware that there is more bullying in schools than ever before.
That's "because of the complicating factors that occur with electronic and cyber bullying, because they can do it 24-7, 365" days a year, he said.
"It has increased exponentially because of students' frequent activity on social media," Akers said.
He said that in some cases, parents aren't monitoring computers and text messages. "This is where a lot of this bullying is taking place."
Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Beshear called on lawmakers last week to adopt new recommendations to stop youth bullying.
The Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force gave four main recommendations to reduce youth bullying:
■ Adopt one statewide, formal definition of bullying.
■ Adopt evidence-based standards in all school districts to promote a positive climate and culture.
■ Invest in behavioral health counselors at the local school level as a preventive measure.
■ Establish and provide funding for a sustainable state-level agency to promote bullying prevention and community programs.