Bullying reports plummeted during remote learning school year, NH state numbers show

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 12/7/2021 10:33:26 PM
Modified: 12/7/2021 10:32:59 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.


Reports of bullying in New Hampshire schools plummeted in the 2020-21 school year as most schools entered remote learning, according to recent numbers from the state Department of Education.

With most students learning via video screens, and many classrooms abandoned for the majority of the school week, elementary schools recorded 364 reported incidents of bullying of any kind during that school year, a 38% decrease from the 2019-20 year. That’s according to the department’s annual bullying report, released in November.

Middle schools registered a 48% drop, with 239 reports overall. High schools’ recorded bullying reports fell 52%, to 176 overall.

New Hampshire’s bullying reports — which are submitted by both public and private schools — are likely an undercount of the actual sum, officials stress; incidents must be reported by the student or their parents, and many aren’t taken to the schools at all. But the year-to-year drop in reports reflects another side effect in the upheaval of school life last year.

And despite an environment with teachers and students interacting exclusively online, cyberbullying reports also dropped in middle schools and high schools, by 34% and 25%, respectively. Cyberbullying among elementary school students stayed about the same.

With children back in classrooms, some state officials are worried that the incident rate could return to previous levels.

“Since the kids have been back in school, I have to say, we’ve already gotten numerous bullying complaints,” said Richard Farrell, the school safety investigator at the New Hampshire Department of Education, during a State Board of Education hearing in November. “We’ve had numerous complaints about restraint. ... Violence in schools in terms of fights and fights related to bullying have increased since the very beginning of the school year.”

But some school superintendents say they haven’t seen an increase in bullying.

“That has not been the case,” said Chip McGee, superintendent of the Pelham School District.

Amanda Isabelle, superintendent at the Mascoma Valley School District, echoed that response. “As far as Mascoma Valley Regional School District goes, we have not noticed an increased rate in the number of reports of bullying at our school,” she said. “I would say it’s consistent with prior years.”

Mascoma used tracking software to analyze student behavior on school devices and monitor for warning signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation, Isabelle said. That analysis also allowed the school to better pick up on instances of bullying or rudeness, which Isabelle said did appear to increase slightly with some students feeling more emboldened online.

Bow School District Superintendent Dean Cascadden said his district has not seen an uptick in bullying, either.

Still, schools have grappled with some behavioral challenges as children transitioned from screens to desks. One of them, Isabelle says, has been vandalism. A series of trends and challenges on social media apps, such as TikTok, have inspired students to deface various areas of school buildings.

“In our bathrooms, we’re seeing kids damaging property that, you know, never has been damaged before,” Isabelle said. “So we are seeing an uptick in that type of behavior. It just means we need to be really more vigilant in watching who’s in the bathroom.”

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