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Washoe students report an increase in cyberbullying 

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Washoe County School District conducts each year a climate survey to learn how students and staff feel about their schools. This year, students again reported an increase in bullying in what is becoming a yearly trend. 

More than half of students surveyed said bullying was an issue at their school, increasing from 46% in the 2021-2022 school year to 57% this year.

While students continue responding positively regarding how they feel toward their teachers and classrooms—and 76% have positive perceptions of school safety—survey results show their struggles are coming from outside the school itself. More than two-thirds of students said cyberbullying is an issue, including mean rumors or lies about others being spread on the internet and social media by other students. 

Laura Davidson, the district’s director of evaluation and research, said that despite the survey results, reports of bullying haven’t increased within the district. 

Trustee Jeff Church said he was concerned that in addition to reports of cyberbullying, nearly one-quarter of students say they don’t feel safe at school. 

Student representative Arabelle Deason said the survey leaves a lot open for interpretation and that she believes there is a difference between cyberbullying, which has to do with a power imbalance and targeting, versus drama between students on social media. 

“I don’t know if we would classify that as bullying or if that’s just a disagreement between students,” she said. “I don’t know if all of those answers are specifically talking about cyberbullying versus students just being mean to each other on the internet.”

Davidson said an important distinction that should also be noted is that the questions about bullying are about whether it happens at the school, not whether it’s happening to the individual student. She said the questions about bullying on the survey are required by the State Department of Education, so the district doesn’t have control over how questions are phrased.

The survey also asked students about their social and emotional competencies. While two-thirds or more of students in grades 6-12 report self-awareness of emotions and positive relationship skills, about half report difficulty in self-management of schoolwork and emotions. 

Evaluator Sarah Trescher said district data shows that students in high school who show growth in self-management of schoolwork particularly also tend to have improvements in their GPA.

“It’s an important skill, and it’s a skill we can help our students with,” she said. “It’s teachable.”

When it comes to staff responses to the climate survey, the vast majority of staff responded positively in most categories, including home school communication, staff-student relationships, safety, social-emotional learning, staff collaboration, and student behaviors. 

However, around half of staff respondents listed work stress and lack of parent involvement as negatives. 

Davidson said that, on a positive note, feelings of burnout have declined. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 75% of staff members reported feeling burnt out or anxious, but staff reporting those concerns have dropped back to pre-pandemic levels at around 50%. 

“We’re very happy to see that this declined over time…but I don’t think any of us are happy to see that 50% of our staff are reporting burnout and low-level anxiety at work,” she said.

Trustee Church said he was also concerned about the staff’s perception that parents aren’t involved enough. 

Davidson said part of the reason the measure is so low is based on how the question is worded: “Are parents of your students involved in the classroom?” She said family involvement at the primary and secondary levels are “wildly different” and families are less involved in classroom activities in middle and high schools. 

“I think a large part of that, if you split that by school level you’d see very dramatic differences,” she said, adding that administrators are looking at how families can be more involved with learning at the higher grade levels.

More than 71% of students in grades 5-12 completed the survey this year, and just over 45% of school-based staff provided responses. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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