SHELBY CO., Tenn. - What is the procedure for Shelby County School educators when it comes to reporting bullying incidents within the school?
This is a multi-part investigation that FOX13 Investigator Leah Jordan has been digging into since the beginning of January 2019.
The inspiration for this portion of the investigation was sparked by parents reaching out to Jordan personally: They expressed their difficulties with accessing documentation of their children's bullying complaints from their local schools.
FOX13 had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Ervin, the Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel for Shelby County Schools on Thursday.
The district official explained why physical, documented bullying reports sometimes seem elusive. They may not always exist.
"The reports can be made verbally,” Ervin said.
Ervin said with a school district as large as Shelby County, the goal is to provide as many channels for reporting as possible.
With SCS being the largest school district in Tennessee, convenience in reporting methods is appreciated by many.
However, since school districts only report their total bullying case report numbers to the Tennessee State Board of Education once a year, FOX13 asked Ervin if verbal bullying reports made throughout the year might be difficult to recall, which can possibly lead to inaccurate reporting.
“Just to be frank, it is difficult,” Ervin said. “With anything concerning data collection…. Most data in the science world, our scientists would agree, you need something tangible to help support the data and to ensure its accuracy. With all data, there are always margins of error,” she said.
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- Girl hospitalized after being attacked by students at SCS school; mother wants answers
So, what is the fix?
With no district-wide rule in place requiring bullying case reports to be tangible, Ervin is asking parents to join the effort.
“We’re asking parents to help us help them,” Ervin said. “I want to encourage parents to memorialize the report in writing. Definitely, we understand making the verbal reports, but of a district of this size, we want to make sure we are able to respond and get the results they want. We really need the parents to help us help them. One of the easiest steps is to document it,” she said.
District officials ask that parents diligently write the date and details of an incident on paper, keep a copy for themselves and give a copy to the school.
If parents feel like their bullying complaints are not being handled adequately or correctly, Ervin also suggested calling the SCS Parent Welcome Center at 901-416-5300.
She said the people who work in that SCS office are trained to take such calls and document them accordingly.
Public records revealed that during the 2013-2014 school year in Shelby County, the district reported a total of 2,771 bullying cases.
Fast forward to 2017-2018, and those documents show that 1,268 cases were reported.
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Jordan asked Ervin if the district would be willing to bring in an independent auditor or a type of review team that will help explain the dramatic drop that is not being experienced by other major metro areas, such as Knox County Schools or Metro Nashville.
“I hesitate to speak on behalf of our board, or those who would have to make those calls when it comes to double checking data,” she said.
Ervin said a new resolution, which has been in the works for years, passed at Tuesday’s school board meeting and might also explain the decrease in case reports.
“I can speak to what I suspect has been part of the district’s sharp decrease in bullying incidents: I’m proud of the decision the board made this week…in passing a resolution declaring the district a ‘Trauma Responsive District,’” she said.
Tuesday, SCS board members voted to begin looking into resources for educators to work better with students who are affected by adverse childhood experiences.
Ervin said the conversation began in 2014 and was finally passed this week.
Ervin further explained some SCS officials’ perspectives of bullying. Many officials believe bullying is a symptom of adverse situations such as witnessing violence and/or crime at home or in the community.
Ervin said this leads to some kids acting out at school, which often surfaces as the bullying incidents many parents call FOX13 about daily.
“I think SCS is on the forefront of getting to the cure,” Ervin said. “Let me assure parents that the trainings are going on.”
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