In past reports on bullying, Cincinnati Public Schools parents weren't getting the whole picture

Superintendent says 'pure data' is new focus

CINCINNATI -- A year ago, Cincinnati Public Schools reported zero instances of bullying at Carson Elementary School in West Price Hill.

That's where Gabriel Taye was in the third grade. On his final day at school, he spent seven minutes unconscious on a bathroom floor, and surveillance footage shows other students appearing to kick him as he lay helpless. Two days later, he took his own life.

When CPS released surveillance footage of the bathroom incident last March, the district said it determined no one had bullied Gabriel that day. In a wrongful death lawsuit, Gabriel’s family argues he was the victim of escalating aggression -- six incidents in the third grade alone, they say, including punching and shoving.

The I-Team wanted to know why, then, Carson Elementary would show no cases of bullying at all. We reviewed the school district's bullying reports going back to 2014 and found numerous inconsistencies.

Superintendent Laura Mitchell admits there are problems.

What we found

The I-Team compared different versions of reports for the past three school years: one given to the school board, one on the district's website and one provided to us from a school district spokeswoman.

We found some reports had different numbers of bullying incidents at the same school. And in some cases, more than a dozen schools were left off some reports.

In Ohio, a school district is required to publish the number of bullying incidents twice a year on its website. The CPS reports only showed confirmed cases of bullying -- not all cases reported to CPS. Jennifer Branch, attorney for Gabriel's family, doesn't think that's enough.

"If they're only producing the numbers that are verified incidences of bullying, that's not really helping the parents because the parents need to know when the child is feeling at risk," Branch said.

Another issue: Under Ohio law, bullying isn't considered bullying until a student is targeted by the same person more than once. In its response to the lawsuit, CPS argues the six incidents involving Gabriel "do not share any pattern or even show repeated run-ins with the same student."

'Those are good steps'

Mitchell served as deputy superintendent for 12 years before her promotion in July. She detailed a list of changes CPS has made in how it deals with bullying since Gabriel's death, though she stopped short of saying his case influenced those changes.

 

To be really effective, Mitchell told us she believes CPS needs a good set of baseline data to know where bullying happens, and how often. That's where the importance of these bullying reports comes in.

"We're making sure, first of all, that we did professional development with our principals, to make sure that our principals understand this information and how they are to report it," she said.

She said she's also directed the district to include cases the district can't verify on the reports it provides to the public.

"We're able to see where some of our highest numbers of bullying are taking place within specific schools. We're also being able to see are there certain times of the day," Mitchell said. That could indicate school leaders need more structured activity during those times, she said.

At Carson Elementary, there were 15 reports of bullying through the first three months of this school year. The school has confirmed half of those.

A new button on CPS's website has already helped the district gather data, Mitchell said: Out of 233 bullying reports across all schools this year, people reported 51 online.

In that, and a raft of other changes, Branch sees progress.

"Any steps the school district is making toward informing students of how to report bullying, informing parents that bullying needs to be reported, and then holding the school accountable for those statistics that hopefully they will start producing now, those are good steps," she said.

 
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