A new report details how well Delaware public schools are following the state's anti-bullying laws approved in 2012.

The main take away from the report is that there is still room for improvement in how Delaware schools respond to bullying and take steps to prevent it. Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn and representatives from Attorney General Beau Biden's office announced the findings Wednesday morning at Springer Middle School.

"We hope that this report serves as a reminder to our schools of the importance of following the state's new bullying laws," Denn said. "Sometimes those of us who have been out of school for a while are skeptical about how much of this really goes on."

But Denn says principals at Delaware's middle schools will be able to tell the full story of the bullying problem. "It really impacts the quality of the academic work that the kids can do, and the numbers are pretty impressive also, in the bad sense." The state study shows that about 20 percent of middle school students report being bullied.

Need for improvement

The audit of how well schools are following the law found that half of the state's schools were complying with the new requirement to contact the parents of both the bully and the victim after an incident. "That's a problem because parents have a big role to play on both ends in terms of dealing with this, but if they don't even know it's happening, they can't."

As for the new laws enforcing penalties for online bullying that impacts activity at school, Denn says 15 out of 19 school districts have implemented the changes and communicated those new rules with students. The majority of charter schools in the state have not. "Fewer than half of them have put the policy in place, and even fewer than that have communicated it to kids. So we have some room to make up on that front."

Charter schools have some work to do to meet the new rules, and the leader of Delaware Charter Schools Network says the schools will get on board. "We will work with our schools to help ensure that these laws are adopted and enforced so that all of our students are learning in an environment where they feel safe and supported," said Kendall Masset, DCSN executive director.

Causes of bullying

In an effort to get a better handle on the causes of bullying, the state is now asking schools to collect data on not just the number of bullying cases, but if possible, detail what led to the incident. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common causes of bullying were physical appearance, student disability, and gender identity.

"That's a concern," Denn said. "Those categories of kids are having to deal with other issues at school anyway. So we're trying to show schools that this is happening at a disproportionate amount, and we want you to be attentive to these particular groups of kids who seem to be getting singled out."

The title of the report, "Unfinished Business," shows that state leaders recognize that bullying continues to be a problem in Delaware schools. There will be annual audits of the state's schools to determine if there has been improvement in implementing the new anti-bullying laws in the years to come.

You can read the report, "Unfinished Business: Implementation by Delaware Public Schools of the State's 2012 Anti-bullying Laws" in its entirety below: