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Are school anti-bullying efforts making the problem worse?

Out of about a million public school students in Washington, about 9,200 were suspended for bullying and 285 were expelled, according to the most recent report on the 2011-2012 school year (file photo)

Washington is one of the states in the nation with a law against bullying and intimidation in schools. But a new report that looked at national data finds some schools’ efforts make bullying worse.

A study published in the Journal of Criminology looked at 7,000 students from each of the 50 states and found students at schools with anti-bullying initiatives may be more likely to become a victim of bullying.

“This study raises an alarm,” says Seokjin Jeong, lead researcher from the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Usually people expect an anti-bullying program to have some impact — some positive impact,” the lead researcher told CBS.

Out of about a million public school students in Washington, about 9,200 were suspended for bullying and 285 were expelled.

That’s according to the most recent Student Behavior Report from the state Superintendent of Public Instructions office covering the 2011-2012 school year.

The figure includes: 1,628 suspensions in King County; 1,209 in Pierce County; and 893 in Snohomish County.

The numbers show a decrease from the previous school year (2010-2011) when about 10,000 students statewide were suspended for bullying, including 2,000 kids in King County public schools who had to sit home for some time due to a bullying incident.

It’s also a drop from the year before (2009-2010) when 11,983 students were suspended for bullying.

Those stats are the first since the Washington State legislature passed a law which prohibits harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools.

It defines those offenses as being any intentional act that physically harms a student or damages his or her property and has the effect of “substantially” interfering with a student’s education, or disrupting school.

Since 2011, schools have been required to take action and adopt the state’s “anti-bullying policy and procedure.”

The downward trend might lead us to believe students are getting the message that bullying “won’t be tolerated” as schools often like to proclaim, or that teachers are doing a better job of bullying behavior and stopping it.

Jeong finds while there might be fewer bullies – as suggested by a drop in suspensions – there hasn’t been a decrease when studying the number of victims of bullying.

He found students at schools with no bullying programs were actually less likely to become victims.

Many schools that show anti-bullying videos as part of their campaign to reduce the abuse might be giving kids ideas. They’re inadvertently coming up with a “how to” guide for some students.

“They are able to learn there are new techniques and might think, ‘I want to try it. I want to find a more vulnerable victim,'” he says.

Many students are doing a better job of hiding bullying, he says, and using cyber bullying tools that don’t leave evidence behind.


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