Despite programs in place, and teachers and administrators on high alert, it seems a small number of students continue to pick on others — in person and through the Internet.
Local school administrators said they will continue to address bullying issues this year with school programs intended to prevent such behavior and educate intimidated students on what to do.
Tony Bennett, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, said the public needs to be aware that Indiana has one of the most comprehensive school safety specialist programs in the U.S., with legislation that focuses on bullying.
"Schools must develop a climate and culture that is conducive to a bully-free environment," he said. "There is nothing that is more proactive or preventative regarding bullying than significant adults who are constantly engaging students in school."
Nearly every school district in Northwest Indiana has dealt with at least one case of bullying. Last year, in the Gary Community School Corp., a parent complained her son was repeatedly picked on and then beaten up in the bathroom. A Griffith girl alleged bullying, and a Porter County family sued the East Porter County School Corp., alleging their daughter had been bullied.
Tri-Creek School Corp. officials hired a dean at Lowell Middle School to help address such issues. They released a statement earlier this year reminding parents and students that every suspected incident of bullying brought to administrators is investigated.
Tony Lux, Merrillville Community School Corp. superintendent, said conflicts always have been and probably always will be a major issue in students' growing-up process. However, what is most disturbing is the small percentage of students ready to inflict physical harm, he said.
"Unfortunately, we see some parents admit to us that they tell their children to stick up for themselves and to engage in physical conflict," Lux said.
"What we have seen over recent years is that more and more girls are engaging in this kind of conflict. The small percentage of girls that do seem to harbor resentments and grudges do so over several years, with conflicts that may start in elementary grades and continue all the way into high school."
Lux said the term "bullying" now is used to describe all conflicts among students, though its more accurate meaning relates to an imbalance of power such as one or more students ganging up on a more defenseless student.
Lux said there actually are fewer of those cases because of all of the programs in place in his district.
Portage Township Schools Superintendent Ric Frataccia said there have been incidents, and administrators now allow students to submit information to its website anonymously. "It can be a situation that's hard to track because a lot of it happens away from school. We find that it happens more at the secondary level than the elementary level. The penalty for it can be up to and including expulsion from school," he said.
In a letter on the schools' Internet sites, School City of Hobart Superintendent Peggy Buffington asks parents and guardians to help stop cyberbullying and online social aggression.
The letter states cyberbullies use the Internet or cellphones to send hurtful messages or post information to damage the reputation and friendships of others. It asks families to visit the website for guidelines to prevent their children from being victimized — or engaging in harmful online behavior.
Hebron Superintendent George Letz said they've noticed problems at the middle schools with some of the girls, in particular.
"Students go through a variety of changes during the middle school years. It can be a tough situation for kids," Letz said.
"The social relationships they have with each other changes, and there is pressure to be part of a group. Studies have been done about kids at that age. They don't always think about the consequences, they just react."
John Hunter, Union Township School Corp. superintendent, noted some episodes of bullying, but that there are programs in place based on grade level.
"Most of our programs are operated by the home-school advisers. At the middle school, we have a special program called Team Lead. We also have the Natural Helpers Program, and there are a variety of programs at the elementary level to address bullying," he said.