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Bullying most prevalent in middle school, report finds

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia students are most likely to be bullied and harassed in middle school, according to a new report.

Slightly more than half of all reported incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation happened at middle schools across the state. High schools reported 26 percent of bullying cases, while elementary schools had the fewest bullying incidents -- 18 percent.

"The middle schools, that's where it occurs," said state schools Superintendent Jim Phares. "Part of it is the growth and lack of maturity of the students."

West Virginia schools reported 6,313 cases in which students were disciplined for bullying, harassment and intimidation during the 2011-12 school year, the latest period for which data are available.

Bullying made up about 3 percent of all disciplinary infractions at schools statewide.

About a third of those bullying reports involved harassment based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.

Nearly three quarters -- 73 percent -- of students disciplined for bullying were boys.

Phares said no student should be subjected to bullying.

"All of our kids have the right to go to school and feel safe and not be pushed around," said Phares, who presented the bullying report to a joint House-Senate education subcommittee Tuesday.

Upshur County schools had the highest bullying rate, followed by Mingo, Gilmer, Lewis and Pocahontas counties.

Kanawha County, the largest school system in West Virginia, had a lower rate but reported the largest number of bullying incidents at 900 during the 2011-12 school year. Cabell County had the next highest number at 406.

The report recommends that schools can best prevent bullying by improving all student behavior and "overall conditions for learning." School assemblies and "one-shot" class lessons are less effective, according to the report.

The report also suggests that teachers receive extra training on how to promote appropriate student behavior and handle bullying incidents. Students disciplined for bullying should serve suspensions in school -- instead of being sent home -- so they're "not deprived of needed supports," according the report.

"We're already doing all kinds of professional development and special programs," Phares told state lawmakers.

Phares, who has reviewed preliminary bullying data for the past school year, expects the number of incidents to decline in next year's report.

In March, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin established a 19-member Middle School Commission that will examine ways to improve student achievement. Phares said the commission also would study ways to curb bullying at middle schools.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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