PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island's Safe School Act was put into play in 2012, about a year after the General Assembly passed statewide bullying legislation that provided the framework for how schools should track and battle bullying.
Seven years later, compliance with two key elements of the law seems mixed at best and nonexistent at worst when it comes to, in the words of the law, "ensuring a consistent and unified, statewide approach to the prohibition of bullying at school."
One example of noncompliance involves the law's requirement for bullying policies to be "prominently posted on the home page of the school district's website."
When Target 12 first started looking into this several weeks ago, West Warwick was the only district out of the 34 in the state with a bullying policy link on its homepage.
While some might debate whether it was featured "prominently," the link was there in small white letters, in a row of choices on the left side of the homepage.
Target 12 checked every district website multiple times and was not able to find a single reference to a bullying policy on 11 sites.
Many other districts included their policies and, in some cases, the reporting form somewhere on their websites, but accessing the information required multiple clicks.
RI STATEWIDE BULLYING POLICY COMPLIANCE
You can look up whether your child's school has complied with the Safe School Act at the bottom of this page or go here to search by school district.
State Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, was one of the bullying law's co-sponsors and now wonders if some districts are not including the link as a way to avoid drawing attention to the number of cases in their schools.
"Are they doing this on purpose in order to skirt looking at a problem?" Lima asked. "We need to put in financial penalties [if a district doesn't follow the law]. When we pass a law we do it for a good reason. People should be following the law."
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, a Jamestown Democrat who sponsored the bill, is also considering legislation to strengthen the measure.
"It looks like we need to actually clarify the intent of what the Safe School Act was supposed to provide as Rhode Island’s anti-bullying policy," Ruggiero said. "We wanted a statewide policy so that teachers, students, parents in one town would deal with the same rules in other places."
There was also a lack of uniformity to a Safe School Act requirement that every school send "summary reports" to their district superintendent twice a school year.
Target 12 requested the last two years of reports from every district, but the response was mixed.
Tiverton Superintendent Peter Sanchioni responded with an email that stated, "No such information exists relative to your request." Sanchioni has not responded to requests for clarification.
Westerly offered a similar response, with the superintendent's executive assistant, Rose Falcone, writing that "there are no summary reports." The district has also not responded to a request for clarification.
New Shoreham said, "Block Island School has had no incident of bullying" during the two years of requested data.
Barrington was the only district that redacted most of the information that was sent.
Lincoln Superintendent Lawrence Filippelli, who was on the committee that helped craft the Safe School Act, said summary reports should not contain personal information that needs to be redacted.
Filippelli also said the goal of the law and policy was to help parents, students and everyone else know the positive and negative bullying trends for every school in their districts.
"It's absolutely something you have to pay attention to," Filippelli said. "If it's allowed to continue, it can have very serious ramifications for students and families."
The Safe School Act also requires schools to report their "responses" to bullying-related issues in their summary reports.
Several districts sent us single pages of bullying incident totals for each of their schools but did not include how administrators responded.
Burrillville is one of the only districts that sent what was expected: four reports from every school from the past two years.
The information "should be easy, it should be accessible, it should be transparent," Ruggiero said.
"What is the data? What is the remediation? The schools should have a zero tolerance for bullying because my intention with the Safe School Act was no child should feel unsafe going to school."
While Lima, who is a retired teacher, at least suspects some of the website and data collection issues could have been done on purpose, Filippelli is less suspicious.
"I don't think it's a smoke signal to say, 'we don't want to deal with bullying,'" Filippelli said. "I think it's one of those line items that are in a law that may have been overlooked."
He acknowledged his district homepage did not include a "prominent" link to its policy until Target 12 contacted him about the intent of the law and policy.
"It was an easy fix," Filippelli said. "If that is right there, ready to be clicked, you don't have to go searching. You can get some answers right then and there."
R.I. Department of Education spokesperson Megan Geoghegan said the state does not compile bullying incident totals but does expect districts to track the issue with the required summary reports.
Kickboxing instructor Christina Rondeau was bullied as a teenager and now works with the bullied in her Johnston dojo.
She was disappointed by the lack of compliance, saying getting parents and students information and help is vital.
"I'd say four or five people a week contact me because they don't know what to do for their child who's being bullied," Rondeau said. "This is an underreported issue anyway. The lack of information makes it worse."
RI STATEWIDE BULLYING POLICY COMPLIANCE
Updated as of 5/20/19
|District||Website||Bullying policy or reporting form on district site home page||Bullying policy or reporting form elsewhere on site||How to find bullying policy or reporting form|
|Barrington||barringtonschools.org||No||Yes||Click on "Student/Parents" tab at top of homepage, scroll down to "Student Support Resources," and click on "Bullying Form."|
|Bristol-Warren Regional||bwrsd.org||Yes||---||Scroll down to "Announcements" at center of homepage.|
|Burriville||bsd-ri.net||No||Yes||Click on "School Committee" dropdown at top of homepage, click on "Policies," then search for "Bullying."|
|Central Falls||cfschools.net||No||Yes||Click "Menu" at top of homepage then scroll down to "CFSD Anti-Bullying Policy" under "Families & Students" header. Alternately, Click "Menu" at the top of homepage, then click "Documents" and search "Bullying."|
|Chariho||chariho.k12.ri.us||No||Yes||Click on tiny "Quick Links" link on upper-right homepage and scroll to "Bullying" icon at the bottom of next page.|
|Coventry||coventryschools.net||Yes||---||Link on left-hand column of homepage, toward the bottom.|
|Cranston||cpsed.net||No||Yes||Click on "Community" tab at the top of homepage, scroll down to "Rights, Policy, Regs.," then click on "Bullying Policy."|
|Cumberland||cumberlandschools.org||No||Yes||Click on "Parent Information" tab at the top of homepage, then select "Report an Incident" from dropdown menu. In addition to form there is also a link to "Bullying/Harassment Investigation Flowchart."|
|East Greenwich||egsd.net||No||No||Not found|
|East Providence||epschoolsri.org||No||Yes||Go to "District Info" tab at the top of homepage, then click on "District Policies." Link to Bullying Policy appears on District Policies page.|
|Exeter-West Greenwich||ewgrsd.org||No||Yes||Click on "Explore" on upper-right homepage. "Bullying Report Form & Policy" is final link listed on next page.|
|Foster-Glocester||fg.k12.ri.us||Yes||---||Scroll down to "Shortcuts" on right-hand side of homepage.|
|Jamestown||jsd-ri.schoolloop.com||Yes||---||Scroll down to "Resources, Quicklinks" on left-hand side of homepage.|
|Johnston||johnstonschools.org||No||Yes||For Bullying Policy, go to "District Offices" tab at top of homepage and select "Human Resources" from dropdown menu, then click "Forms, Policies, Contracts, and Resources." For Reporting Form, go to "Student/Parent Pages" at top of homepage, then click "Handbooks, Policies, Procedures, and Forms" from dropdown menu. "COMPLAINT FORM" link is listed in capital letters.|
|Lincoln||district.lincolnps.org||Yes||---||Scroll down to prominent link on lower right-hand side of homepage.|
|Little Compton||lcsd.k12.ri.us||Yes||Yes||Under "Safe School Links" on left-hand side of homepage.|
|Middletown||mpsri.net||Yes||No||"MPS Bullying Policy & Reporting Form" on hompage|
|Narragansett||nssk12.org||Yes||---||"Bullying Policy & Reporting" link located within series of links on top, right-hand side of homepage.|
|New Shoreham||bischool.net||No||No||Not found|
|North Kingstown||nksd.net||Yes||---||Scroll down to series of rectangular links on right-hand side of homepage, next to "Superintendent's Message." "NKSD Bully Policy" is the final link on the bottom of that list.|
|North Providence||npsd.k12.ri.us||Yes||---||"District Bullying Policy" link prominently located on the upper-right corner of homepage.|
|North Smithfield||northsmithfieldschools.com||No||No||Not found|
|Portsmouth||portsmouthschoolsri.org||Yes||No||Under "Quick Links" on the left-hand side of the homepage.|
|Providence||providenceschools.org||No||Yes||Click on "Students" tab in upper-center of homepage. On left-hand side of "Students" page, there are links to the district's bullying policy and reporting form in both English and Spanish, as well as a "Bullying Manual."|
|Smithfield||smithfield-ps.org||No||Yes||Click on "Explore" on upper-right homepage, then click on "Family Resources" and select "Bullying & Harassment."|
|South Kingstown||skschools.net||No||No||Not found|
|Warwick||warwickschools.org||No||Yes||Go to "Parents & Students" tab at top of homepage and choose "Parents & Student Resources" from dropdown menu OR go to "Administration" tab at top of homepage and choose "Students & Parents" from dropdown menu. "Bullying Policy" link is found at bottom left of next page, under "Policies."|
|West Warwick||westwarwickpublicschools.com||Yes||---||"WWPS Anti-Bullying Policy" located among list of links on left-hand side of homepage.|
|Woonsocket||woonsocketschools.com||No||Yes||Go to "Leadership" tab on at the top of the homepage then choose "District Policies" from dropdown menu. "Bullying Policy" appears first in alphabetical list of policy links.|
|Bullying policy or reporting form on district homepage||9 RI school districts|
|Bullying policy or reporting form elsewhere on district website||14 RI school districts|
|No bullying policy or reporting form found on district website||11 RI school districts|
This table has been revised to show that Little Compton updated its website in response to our report.