KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – In a bullying report provided to Kingsport City Schools (KCS) board members on Tuesday, system data showed a significant increase in bullying incidents compared to school years before COVID-19 lockdowns.

The data provided by Jim Nash, chief student services officer for the system, shows a roughly 50% rise in confirmed bullying incidents between the 20-21 and 21-22 school years. Nash emphasized that 20-21 numbers were likely lower due to the impacts of COVID-19 lockdown procedures, meaning that the jump may have been smaller in a normal year.

Compared to school years leading up to COVID-19, however, bullying incidents were much higher.

From the 18-19 school year to 21-22, corroborated bullying cases increased from 25 to 45 (+80%). Administrators reported 28 corroborated bullying incidents in 17-18, roughly 60% of 21-22’s total.

Gender and sex-based bullying more than quintupled from 4 to 22 between the 19-20 and 20-21 school years but decreased to 13 the following year.

“I think that’s just kind of a reflection where we are as a society,” Nash said. “As we’re trying to support everyone and work with everyone that you are seeing a slight increase in that area.”

Photo: Kingsport City Schools

“Anytime that we get a report of bullying or harassment or things of that nature,” Nash told board members on Tuesday. “As a school system, we are required to initiate an investigation within 48 hours, and then you have 20 days to complete that.”

In all of the reported years, no cases were reported to have violated those timelines.

KCS data shared with the board reported no bullying cases involving electronic technology from 2019 to 2021, despite much of the system being virtual throughout the school years. Compared to 17-18, that number dropped by 10. Nash said incidents that would be classified as electronic would need to either occur on school grounds, use school property or spill over from home lives into the school day.

“Social media related, internet related is a definite source of concern at times for students and student behavior,” Nash said.

Since the 17-18 school year, KCS reported no bullying cases resulted in out-of-school suspensions (OSS) greater than 10 days. Nash said there are violations of school policy that might still warrant that punishment on the books, but that the system has been working to reach students before such measures are needed.

“With OSS there’s a potential for learning loss, obviously there are behaviors that warrant OSS and we will do that,” Nash said. “But we look at alternate ways to deal with behaviors and address the concern, help the student to learn to behave appropriately and assign a consequence that is appropriate.”

“We do have multiple avenues by which people can try to report,” Nash told the board. “And we do provide education to our students and our staff on how to address that.”