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Epling was deeply frustrated when he read about the recent death of Michael Martin, a Lansing schools eighth grader. Michael, 13, died in January after taking his own life, two months after his mother began pleading with staff at Lansing’s Everett High School for help with bullying he was struggling with.
“It is very frustrating that we have spent time, energy, trying to get people to understand this is a much bigger problem than just addressing incidents as one-off issues,” Epling said. “I think that’s the problem. Schools wait until something happens.”
A State Journal investigation of 18 Lansing area school districts shows most aren’t:
► Only two of the 18 school districts are informing elected school board members of the scope of bullying in their districts, as required by law.
► The state Department of Education is not enforcing the law, and an official there says districts are responsible for monitoring their own compliance because the department doesn’t have the authority to enforce state laws.
► One-third of the districts, most of which have more than 2,000 students, reported fewer than a dozen bullying incidents to the state last school year. Experts say it’s likely officials in those districts are underreporting the number of bullying incidents to the state.
► The Lansing School district, with more than 10,000 students, has reported more bullying incidents to the state than any other school district in Michigan for the last two school years. That may be because districts can define bullying in different ways.
Bullying can cause lasting damage, and it’s more prevalent in schools than most adults realize, said Susan Limber, a developmental psychologist, researcher and professor at Clemson University.
At the heart of the issue, experts said, is that bullying in schools is an adult problem. Solving it requires a willingness to track bullying incidents honestly, and to take them seriously.