Hawaii high school students reported fewer physical fights but more suicide attempts than their U.S. peers, while bullying rates approached the national average, according to data to be presented to the school board today.
About 18.4 percent of high schoolers in the islands said they were bullied on school property in the last 12 months, slightly below the national average of 19 percent, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The rate had been 18.6 percent in Hawaii two years earlier.
“Our high school trend data doesn’t show much change in electronic bullying or bullying on school property,” said Jennifer Ryan, school health coordinator for the state Department of Health. “The trend is no change.”
Electronic bullying was included as a question starting in 2011. That year, 14.9 percent of Hawaii high school students reported having been victimized in the past 12 months. In 2017 the electronic bullying rate was 14.6 percent in Hawaii and 14.9 percent nationally.
Bullying has been a hot topic lately at the Board of Education. On Oct. 4, the board voted to advance a proposal, which will be sent out for public hearing, to strengthen how schools respond to bullying and harassment.
Under pressure from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, the Department of Education agreed in December to strengthen regulations against harassment, after a compliance review that took several years. DOE must establish a clear complaint process for students; conduct reliable and impartial investigations; and protect victims from further harassment.
In September, Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and other DOE administrators were slapped with a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that administrators have failed to protect students from bullying and harassment.
The data to be discussed today comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which administers the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to a representative sample of students at schools nationwide every other year. It covers a wide range of behaviors.
A presentation on the results will be made to the Board of Education’s Student Achievement Committee at its meeting at Heeia Elementary School in Kaneohe at 3:30 p.m.
The national survey data combines public and private schools. In Hawaii, only public school students are surveyed because local private schools have not expressed interest in participating, Ryan said.
The results show that fighting is less frequent among island teens than nationally. In Hawaii 16.8 percent of high school students reported having been in a physical fight in the past 12 months, compared to the U.S. rate of 23.6 percent. Fewer local teens also reported carrying any kind of weapon in the past 30 days.
But Hawaii students tried to take their own lives at a higher rate than their peers across the country. Ten percent of students surveyed said they had attempted suicide in the last 12 months compared to 7.4 percent nationally.
“While the rate has been decreasing, we still have 10 percent of students reporting that they attempted suicide within the last 12 months, so that’s very concerning,” Ryan said. “Project HI Aware has been rolling out a lot of suicide prevention awareness.”
Project AWARE, which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education, works to enhance safety and address mental health issues in schools. It is funded largely by federal grants to the Department of Education.
Another worrisome statistic in the 2017 data was the number of students who said they did not go to school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. The rate in Hawaii was 9.3 percent compared with 6.7 percent nationally.
A separate Youth Risk Behavior Survey in middle schools showed bullying rates have dropped for younger students in Hawaii. The middle school question is broader than the high school one. It asks whether students have been bullied on school property ever — not just in the last 12 months.
Forty percent of middle school students surveyed in Hawaii in 2017 said that they had been victimized, down from 45 percent in 2015. Electronic bullying, at whatever location, also trended downward for that group, from 25.1 percent in 2015 to 22.6 percent in 2017.
No national comparisons are available for the middle school survey data. Since it isn’t fully federally funded, only 14 states took part in 2017 and not all of them asked the bullying questions.
“Bullying isn’t identified as a health priority in other states,” Ryan said. “We like to look at a more comprehensive student profile in order to really target our intervention.”
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser checked the data for the 11 states that did include bullying in their middle-school survey and found that students in all but two of those states reported higher rates of ever being bullied than Hawaii’s 40 percent.
Nonetheless, the problem is real for many students. Mental Health America of Hawaii trains youth and adults on how to recognize and intervene to prevent bullying and suicide. Last year, it trained 3,000 middle and high school students, according to Trisha Kajimura, executive director of the nonprofit.
“We want to get this training out to as many students as possible because we know that the statistics are not good, even if they stack with national averages, it’s still too high,” Kajimura said. “What we’re focusing on now … we have been certifying trainers who can reach youth through their positions, so teachers, counselors, even administrators, and in after-school programs.”
The organization has just developed a new program tailored to fifth graders, called “Be a Defender.”
“What Mental Health America always promotes is prevention,” Kajimura said, adding that her group would like to see universal mental health screening for children.
The number of Hawaii high school students who say they were bullied is close to the national average while suicide attempts were more frequent here.
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS / HAWAII / U.S.
Were bullied on school property within the last 12 months: 18.4% / 19%
Were electronically bullied in last 12 months: 14.6% / 14.9 %
Were in a physical fight in the past 12 months: 16.8% / 23.6%
Attempted suicide in last 12 months: 10% / 7.4%
Skipped school because they felt unsafe on the way to or at school: 9.3% /6.7%
Carried a weapon (gun, knife or club) in the past 30 days: 11.8% / 15.7%
Source: 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
To explore the data online, visit cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs
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