Survey: Bullying top concern among Virginia students

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Bullying remains the top safety concern among Virginia's public school students, according to a statewide survey of principals and superintendents.

The Virginia School Safety Survey found that among the 737 elementary, middle and high schools that gave students anonymous safety surveys, bullying emerged as students' main concern at all grade levels in 2009-10, the most recent data available.

The study showed that nearly 92 percent of those middle schools reported that their students were concerned with bullying, compared to 83 percent of elementary schools and 77 percent of high schools.

University of Virginia education professor Dewey Cornell, one of the authors of the report that analyzes the survey results, said Thursday that most bullying prevention programs are aimed at the lower grades, but the responses show that there also is a need for them at the high school level.

The online survey of all 2,002 public schools found that 76 percent of all schools had a bullying-prevention program. Of those schools, 85.5 percent of middle schools had such a program, compared to 81 percent of elementary schools and 62 percent of high schools.

The survey also found that 89 percent of schools employ automated electronic-alert systems to notify families about school emergencies, up from 33 percent in 2005-06. It also showed that 80 percent of schools use a formal threat-assessment process to respond to students threats of violence.

Nineteen percent of schools reported that they activated their crisis-management or emergency-management plans during 2009-10 in response to non-weather emergencies, according to the survey. The most common reason was incidents occurring off-grounds, such as a crime or accident.

Eighty-seven percent of schools reported that, aside from the main doors, all exterior entrances to their buildings are locked during school hours, and 42 percent of schools check visitor names against sex-offender registry bulletins.

Only 7 percent of schools reported gang-related incidents, during 2009-10, down from 13 percent two years earlier, the survey said. The rate is highest among high schools, with 22 percent of them reporting gang-related problems in 2009-10.

A survey of the state's 132 public school divisions and the Department of Correctional Education showed that 27 percent adopted new safety and security practices into their district-wide policy guidelines in 2009-10.

Two-thirds have provided police and other emergency responders with electronic floor plans of all their buildings and grounds.
Fifteen percent of school divisions, or 20, have a student drug-testing policy, according to the survey.

Virginia law requires an annual statewide audit to assess school-safety conditions. The information helps shape safety practices, threat assessment and prevention policies.