Most voters say bullying needs attention, poll finds


Most voters say bullying needs attention, poll finds

By Susan Essoyan

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 23, 2014

Equality Hawai‘i Foundation, hoping to spark more efforts to prevent bullying, released poll data Thursday showing that voters think it’s an important issue and that Caucasians in Hawaii are the ethnic group most likely to report being bullied.

Three-quarters of the 442 registered voters in the telephone poll said bullying was either a “major problem” or a “large problem” in Hawaii schools today. When asked to reflect on their own experiences growing up, 37 percent felt they had personally been bullied; Caucasians were the most likely to report being targeted, followed by Hawaiians and Fili­pinos.

Asked whether their own child or the child of friends or family members had been bullied — a broader category — 44 percent answered yes. Again, Caucasians had the highest rate at 54 percent. People of Japa­nese ancestry had the lowest at 29 percent.

“It’s time that we treat everyone with aloha, compassion and dignity, and that means zero tolerance for bullying,” said Gigi Lee, co-chairwoman of the foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on equality for people regardless of sexual orientation.

The poll defined bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” including “making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

Overall, two-thirds of those polled said it is “very important” for the state to address bullying, and an additional 26 percent called it “somewhat important,” for a total of 92 percent.

“That means virtually everyone said it’s important for the state to address this,” said Barbara Ankersmit, president of Qmark Research, which conducted the poll.

The questions on bullying were included in a broader statewide telephone poll conducted in July among registered voters, with a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points. Equality Hawai‘i Foundation decided to release the data now to focus attention on bullying.

“We felt this was an important conversation to have and didn’t want it to be buried within the marriage debate,” said Mathew Bellhouse-King, Equality Hawai‘i board member. “The main point is that every child has a right to a safe learning environment free from bullying and harassment.”

The poll was the first time the foundation has measured attitudes toward bullying among adults in Hawaii, and it had no comparative national information or trend data.

However, the federal government conducts biannual surveys among teenagers at secondary schools across the country, and those data show Hawaii students report about the same rates of bullying as their mainland counterparts, both in person and on the Internet.

Roughly 1 in 5 high school students in Hawaii said they had been bullied on school property within the last 12 months, the same as the national average in the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. The full results of the 2013 survey will not be released until next month.

A preview of Hawaii data shows, however, that fewer students are reporting incidents on campus. In 2013, 18.7 percent of high school students in Hawaii said they had been bullied on school property within the last 12 months, a drop from 20.3 percent in 2011. Those figures were among local highlights revealed at a Board of Education committee meeting May 6.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey defines bullying as “when one or more students tease, threaten, spread rumors about, hit, shove, or hurt another student over and over again.”

The advent of the Internet has raised the stakes for kids, who can be harassed through social media in myriad ways.

“When I would get bullied when I was a kid, at least I could go home and have a safe refuge,” Bellhouse-King said. “Now it can be 24/7, as well as from a large group of people, very quickly. The attack could be that much more vicious.”

The Equality Hawai‘i poll did not ask about cyberbullying, but the federal survey found a slight uptick in electronic bullying among Hawaii students, to 15.6 percent in 2013 from 14.9 percent in 2011. The national figure was 16.2 percent in 2011, but last year’s result has not yet been released.

The Safe Schools Act, passed by the Legislature in 2011, requires monitoring, prompt reporting and investigation of bullying and harassment in Hawaii schools. It also requires annual training on promoting peace and respect on campus and appropriate ways to intervene in bullying or harassment.

All public schools now provide an “evidence-based anti-bullying program,” and administrators are trained on research-proven strategies, according to the DOE website. At many campuses, students have produced anti-bullying videos as public service announcements.

“The Department of Education takes bullying very seriously and also believes it is important to support victims of bullying,” said Dara Young, communications specialist. “We encourage students and parents to report incidents of bullying and harassment by immediately notifying school officials.”

Bellhouse-King said lawyers from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education were recently in town looking into the handling by isle educators of bullying and harassment.

Superintendent Kathryn Mata­yo­shi said the attorneys came primarily to assess the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s compliance with rules regarding handling sexual abuse complaints.

“While they were on island, an OCR attorney took the opportunity to have an in-person meeting with the Hawaii DOE regarding ongoing data collection matters, including but not limited to, harassment and bullying based on protected class,” she said. “To our knowledge, this was not based on any complaints, but part of the OCR’s compliance oversight monitoring.”

Equality Hawai‘i shared the poll data with Board of Education Chairman Don Hor­ner and looks forward to working with him to ensure that schools collect data systematically and adopt effective solutions to enhance students’ mental health, Bellhouse-King said.

Horner affirmed Thursday that “the department and our educational leaders are committed to ensure our schools are a safe and nurturing learning environment for all students.”


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