Putting Education Reform To The Test

Are There More Bullies in Palm Beach County Schools — Or Just More Honesty?


Jeffrey Johnston killed himself in 2005 after being picked on by classmates. Florida's anti-bullying law is named after him.

Three of every ten bullying incidents reported in Florida last year happened in Palm Beach County schools, according to state data.

That’s been the case since Florida approved a law in 2008 requiring school districts to report bullying and follow-up with parents — or face penalties.

Palm Beach County schools reported one incident of bullying for every 95 students during the 2010-2011 school year – the highest rate among Florida’s large schools districts. That rate is three and a half times higher than Tampa’s Hillsborough County schools, four times higher than Miami-Dade County schools and 10 times higher than neighboring Broward County schools.

Parents have accused the district in a lawsuit of not doing enough to stop middle school bullying.

So do Palm Beach County schools have the meanest kids in the state?

School officials said they are just more honest reporting bullying – and state and federal data offers some support.

“We believe we are reporting the incidents in line with the state requirements,” district spokesman Nat Harrington wrote in an email. “We believe we are sensitive to reporting these incidents correctly and accurately.”

Palm Beach County schools have two tiers of bullying offenses, Harrington said. And the district provides resources for students and parents to prevent, deal with and report bullying.

Nine Florida districts reported no bullying during the 2010-2011 school year. The largest of those districts reporting no bullying was Flagler County schools with nearly 13,000 students.

And compare Palm Beach County schools to another large, urban district in Duval County schools. Duval County schools reported just 26 bullying incidents in a school district of nearly 124,000 students. That’s one bullying report for every 4,769 students – or a rate 50 times lower than Palm Beach County schools.

Overall, Florida schools reported that just one-quarter of one percent of students were bullied during the 2010-2011 school year. Nearly one in three students reported they were bullied, according to a federal survey. And a survey by a company that produces an anti-bullying curriculum found 17 percent of respondents said they had been bullied.

That means Palm Beach County schools reported bullying is more typical for national surveys than for other Florida school districts.

Debbie Johnson, the mother of a Lee County student who killed himself after years of being picked on by a classmate, told the Tampa Tribune last year that she believes school districts aren’t being honest about bullying.

“They’re playing games with the law and they’re playing games with kids’ lives,” she told the paper.


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