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A losing fight? The search for clarity in Duval County's bullying data

9:23 PM, Nov 6, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- You might think you know what bullying looks like, but according to strict new state definitions, the fights and intimidation many associate with it might not actually constitute 'bullying.'

According to Brenda Lane, Bullying Prevention Specialist for Duval County Public Schools, the state mandated definition is very specific and very serious. "This is: systematic, premeditated, planned, unwanted, aggressive behavior with the true intent to cause harm," says Lane.

That definition was part of the Jeffrey Johnson Stand Up For All Students Act, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2008 after years of failed attempts. Named for a Florida youth who committed suicide after merciless bullying, the law -- among other things -- required school districts to report every case of bulling.

But five years in, the law hasn't brought much clarity. For instance, during the 2009-10 school year, Duval County reported zero instances of bullying. Just two years earlier, district reported 681 cases.

"That seems impossible, for it to be just zero," says Tabitha Cobb, a junior at Stanton Prep. "I don't want to say not true but I'm pretty sure its was bullying instances and maybe they just went unreported."

Lane says the zero was the result of a computer glitch. But even recent numbers seem low. Last year, the district reported just 54 cases of bullying -- the same as Clay County, a district about a quarter of its size.  

In fact, compared to Florida's other large urban school districts; Duval's numbers seem unusually small:

  • Hillsborough - 484
  • Broward - 134
  • Palm Beach - 1,144
  • Pinellas - 421
  • Dade - 608

"I think 54 is a bit low for the whole Duval County. Considering we have 175 schools including high schools and middle schools," says Keana Johnson, a Darnell Cookman junior. "I think it's a bit low."

But if Duval's figures seem low, they're not nearly as low as some. Nine Florida school districts -- Baker, Bradford, Dixie, Hardee, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Union and Walton all reported zero incidents of bullying.

"I don't think you could get 50 people together without there being bullying, let alone entire counties," says Cobb. "So there's probably a glitch or something being swept under the rug or something that's hidden or not reported -- something like that."

District officials expect the numbers to level out as they educate parents, teachers and kids about the state definition of bullying. In the meantime, students can report all cases of bullying, anonymously, to 904-390-CALL.


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