Reported bullying incidents in Duluth Public Schools dropped slightly during the 2018-2019 school year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t happening, officials said.

Duluth Public Schools climate coordinator Ron Lake presented the Duluth School Board Monday with last school year’s numbers. There were 148 documented referrals for bullying with 42 reported at elementary schools, 68 at middle schools and 38 at high schools. There were 174 referrals during the 2017-2018 school year, 96 referrals in 2016-2017 and 77 in 2015-2016.

Lake said the increase in referrals is a good thing because staff has been able to identify, document and, hopefully, resolve incidents of bullying over the last four years.

“I think that’s still an underestimate in terms of the incidents that are actually happening,” Lake said.

The 2016 Minnesota Department of Education student survey results show about 25 percent of students believe they have been part of a bullying incident. The survey is given every three years. The 2019 survey results will be released in the fall.

“So I think bullying is an area that continues to be underreported,” Lake said.

Lake did say there are other categories that the district keeps track of besides bullying. Last school year there were approximately 550 assaults, 400 fights, 110 incidents of harassment, 10 terroristic threats, 200 threats of intimidation and 300 verbal abuse reports.

“If we think about those numbers then I think we are much more accurately identifying the amount of harm that is being done and the incidents that were are trying to resolve as a school system,” Lake said. “When we look at those other categories collectively, I think that’s a much more accurate representation than looking at 148 incidents of bullying.”

As for cyberbullying, there were only four documented incidents specific to that category. Lake said that area is particularly hard to document.

“I think there are lots of situations happening outside of school and the way the law is set up, if we can show a connection between what’s happening at night or on the weekend is carrying over into school and affecting how kids are attending or learning, and it gets reported to us, then we have a chance to document it and try and intervene and maybe apply discipline as well,” Lake said.

Lake said one of the things that schools are doing well to curb bullying is helping kids develop relationships with each other and with adults.

“If kids have a need they are more likely to talk to other kids about it,” Lake said.

He also said when schools have a process where students can sit in a circle and develop relationships in some organized and supported way really helps.

One area Lake said the district should improve on is teaching kids and families to find and use their online reporting site. Each school has a Google form that can be filled out by a student or parent to report an incident of bullying. There were 23 online reports of bullying in 2018-2019 and 48 online reports in 2017-2018.

“If we could create a really brief five-minute lesson where staff walk through and show kids how to find in on our website — something simple like that — could probably make a difference,” Lake said.

The online bullying report forms for each school can be found at isd709.org/programs-services/bullying-response.