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Students in a classroom at Crispus Attucks High School.

Students in a classroom at Crispus Attucks High School.

Indiana schools still struggle to report bullying. Here’s why it’s so hard to capture.

About half of Indiana schools reported no incidents of bullying during the 2018-19 school year, according to a new report — continuing a concerning trend for child advocates, lawmakers, and parents who say bullying has been underreported for years.

Out of 1,848 public schools across the state, 935 reported zero bullying incidents. In all, schools reported a total of 5,257 bullying incidents last year, a slight decrease over the previous year.

Most of the incidents were cases of verbal bullying, the report said. Fewer written or electronic incidents were reported, while incidents of physical bullying went up. The state report attributed the changing trends to increased focus on training school staff on cyberbullying.

“The schools reporting zero bullying either have kids who are very good at hiding these issues, or the schools are misidentifying what bullying is,” said Madi Gregory, a spokeswoman for the Marion County Commission on Youth, in an emailed statement.

Still, Gregory said she remains hopeful that recent attention to bullying and attempts to improve data collection will help educators and families better address the issues.

When surveyed by the state, most districts reported that officials struggled over how to report behavior that didn’t clearly fall under the definition of bullying.

“This indicates that despite clear definitions of bullying from the legislature, human behavior is very difficult to quantify,” the report said.

State law defines bullying as “overt, unwanted, repeated acts” that harass a student and create a hostile environment.

At least two Indiana districts are currently facing lawsuits over students who say schools didn’t do enough to stop them from being bullied.

In recent years, Indiana has grappled with how to better examine bullying in schools, as the rise of social media ushered in new problems. Parents in particular have driven the call to bring more attention to bullying problems. Lawmakers have refined bullying definitions and reporting requirements, hoping to get a more accurate picture of what’s happening in schools.

“It’s very important that parents continue to hold their schools accountable,” Indiana education department spokesman Adam Baker said.