News 3 Investigates: Declining reports of bullying does not reflect reality, Virginia parents, teachers say

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Posted at 11:29 AM, Aug 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-25 11:35:56-04

SUFFOLK, Va. – Data on bullying cases reported to the Virginia Department of Education shows a sharp decline, but parents, teachers and anti-bullying advocates told the News 3 team of investigators that the numbers don’t reflect the reality at schools statewide.


According to the Virginia Department of Education, there were 2,899 cases of bullying reported statewide during the 2017-2018 school year. That number dropped to 2,616 cases reported during the 2018-2019, and dropped again to 2,027 cases of bullying reported statewide for the 2019-2020 school year when the pandemic began. The most drastic drop was reflected in the 2020-2021 school year with 236 cases of bullying reported statewide.

“[Children] weren't reporting it to the schools [during the pandemic],” said Parents Against Bullying founder Shant’a Miller White. “That's why those numbers decreased.”

White created Parents Against Bullying after her daughter was assaulted on a Hampton City Schools bus a decade ago. She said she received a record number of calls for help from parents of bullied children in the last two school years.

“A lot of people are scared to report [bullying],” said White, who serves an advocate for bullied children and their parents. “We need to have a training, anti-bullying awareness training, so that these teachers can know exactly what to look for [and] what to do.”

Morgan Robinson, a middle school student in Suffolk, said she warned teachers about being bullied at Kings Fork Middle School in the fall of 2021, but nothing happened. By early October, the girl’s bully assaulted her for ten minutes during gym class before teachers intervened. The attack left the girl with face and head injuries so severe she had to be hospitalized. Her classmates captured cell phone video of the fight and posted it on social media.

“When I saw that video, I vomited everywhere,” said Shareka Robinson, Morgan’s mother. “[My child] was thrown around for at least 10 minutes like a rag doll.”

Robinson said her daughter slipped into a depression after the attack, and she feared her then sixth grader would commit suicide.

“I did think about doing that,” said Morgan. “I didn’t want to be remembered as the girl who got attacked on social media.”

Morgan said support from the community and Parents Against Bullying encouraged her not to take her own life.

Related: Suffolk girl working through her pain, helping others after she says she was attacked

“If [teachers] knew what to do in that case, you could possibly save a life,” White said.

Carly Gelles, a high school teacher in Portsmouth, also said training focused helping teachers identify bullying before it goes too far would be helpful.

“Bullying is a lot harder to recognize than it used to be,” said Gelles, referring to cyber bullying that leads to in-person confrontations at school. “If we can address more of the mental health issues that [lead to bullying behavior], and we can address more of the learning inefficiencies that students are having, then we can probably reduce bullying, because the kids will be more focused on what's going on in the classroom.”

The News 3 team of investigators analyzed the bullying policies from school districts in Hampton Roads. They all promote a “no tolerance” policy, and encourage students to report bullying to teachers and staff. Suffolk Public Schools has implemented an anonymous tip line to report bullying, and Norfolk Public Schools launched an app to report cases anonymously, too. Gelles said it’s still important for teachers to be available to students.

“If you have a really healthy relationship with your students, they will come to you,” she said.

As for Morgan, she has transferred to a different middle school in Suffolk where she feels safe. She also launched a clothing line to empower other children who have been bullied.

As highlighted by the Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, certain behaviors associated with bullying can result in punishment under Virginia Law.

  • Threat is knowingly communicating a warning to kill or do bodily harm to someone.  This is punishable as a Class 6 felony and can result in up-to 5 years imprisonment.  (§ 18.2-60)
  • Extortion is knowingly obtaining, by threat, control over the property of another, with intent to deprive said person of the property.  This is a Class 5 felony and can result in up to 10 years imprisonment.  (§ 18.2-59)
  • An Assault is the attempt or offer, with force, to do bodily harm, while assault and battery is the actual infliction of bodily harm.  This crime is classified as either a Class 1 misdemeanor- 12 months imprisonment and/or $2500 fine, or a Class 6 felony (if the victim is intentionally selected based on race, religion, color or national origin), which can result in up to 5 years imprisonment.  (§18.2-57)
  • Hazing is the reckless or intentional endangerment of the health or safety of a student, or the infliction of a bodily injury on a student in connection with or for the purpose of an initiation, admission or affiliation with a club, organization, fraternity…regardless of whether the student voluntarily participated.  This crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can result in 12 months in jail and/or $2500 fine.  (§18.2-56) 
  • Malicious wounding is the shooting, stabbing, cutting, wounding or causing a bodily injury, with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill and is a Class 3 Felony that can result in 5 - 20 years and a fine up to $100,000.  (§ 18.2-51). If such act is done unlawfully, not maliciously, then it is an unlawful wounding and is a Class 6 Felony that can result in 1-5 years; or 12 months in jail and/or $2500 fine.
  • Harassment by computer is the use of a computer - with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass - to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language or make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or to threaten any illegal or immoral act.  This crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor and result in 12 months in jail and/or $2500 fine.  (§ 18.2-152.7:1)  
Virginia Attorney General's Office