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Compliance spotty for nearly decade-old law aimed at battling bullies

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Target 12 investigation into whether school departments are complying with a key element of the nearly decade-old statewide bullying policy prompted almost every district to make changes to their homepages.

But the grades for how well the law is followed are mixed at best according to lawmakers.

Providence, by far the state’s largest district, remains on the shortlist of three apparently not following the requirement to “prominently” post links to the policy on their homepages.

Lawmakers also have questioned whether other districts are following the letter of the law.

When we checked in May, 27 of the state’s 36 districts did not have any bullying links on their homepages as required by the 2011 Statewide Bullying Policy, which states the links must be “prominently posted” on the district homepages.

Lawmakers and educators who helped craft the measure say the goal is to make reporting bullying easier for parents and students.

We showed bill co-sponsor and retired Providence teacher Charlene Lima her district website and asked her to find the link.

“It should be right here along the top,” Lima said, “Got to make it as easy as possible [for parents and students.]”

She couldn’t find the policy without a little help.

On Providence’s homepage, you need to hit the “quicklinks” tab that brings you to a drop-down menu, which includes the link.

“No,” Lima said when asked if the Providence link was “prominent.” “It needs to be right there up front. Not that you have to go somewhere, to go somewhere else to find it. “

Providence Schools spokesperson Emily Martineau said the policy is “featured prominently” on the district homepage under the “quicklinks” tab.

Martineau also said the city is “exploring ways to have it featured in a more prominent way on the website.”

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Central Falls is an example of a community that was on the long list of non-compliant districts in May, but now has a link in a prominent location — in the middle of its homepage.

By contrast, a number of other districts also made changes since the first Target 12 report but put links at the bottom of their homepages, or in locations that some would say are not easy to find.

That’s “not good enough” according to Lima who suspects districts shy away from “prominent” placement to keep the number of bullying claims down.

“I would not be surprised if some of them do not want to report this because it hurts their reputation,” Lima said. “It makes them look bad.”

Target 12 also found compliance was spotty for the requirement that every school record and track bullying cases with “summary reports of incidents (and) responses,” that are supposed to be sent to their superintendents twice a year.

When we asked for the summary reports from every district in May, the information was either not available or not detailed in the way the law requires.

We also found out no one is recording the total number of cases or tracking bullying trends.

Lima said it is disappointing we do not know any more about how prevalent bullying is in 2019 than we did before the law was passed.

“That’s the extremely frustrating part. If you don’t know how bad the problem is, how do you do anything about it?” Lima said. ” I think it’s such a problem that causes so much distress for students.”

After Target 12’s Battling the Bully report aired, Lima proposed a bill to fine non-compliant districts, but it did not pass.

She plans to reintroduce the measure next year.

Send your story ideas to Target 12 Investigator Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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