SEBRING - The number of substantiated incidents of bullying nearly doubled in the Highlands County District in the 2012-13 school year, but administrators attribute the increase to a heightened awareness of bullying.
The school district had 18 reported bullying incidents, with 12 substantiated, in the 2011-12.
The numbers increased to 25 reported bullying incidents, with 23 substantiated, in 2012-13, according to data from the district's Management Information Systems Department.
Lake Placid Elementary Principal Carey Conner said, "I think the reporting has increased because we are more aware of what we are supposed to report."
Highlands District Student Services Director Marcia Davis recently spoke to the principals about it, Conner said. School administrators are learning more about what the state expects as far as reporting goes.
"We do a lot of investigations on bullying, but most of the time it is unsubstantiated at the elementary level, but we take it very seriously," she said.
Bullying has become a term with a broad meaning and people sometimes use it when it is not truly bullying, Conner noted.
Lake Placid Elementary had no substantiated bullying reports in 2012-13, she said.
Park Elementary Principal Karin Doty said depending on the school year and school makeup, there can be an increase or decrease in bullying incidents from year to year.
"But there could be a heightened awareness to fill out more incident forms," she said. "But it is always our number one priority not to have that occur in the schools."
District-wide, the overall number of discipline referrals declined from 11,069 in 2011-12 to 9,739 in 2012-13.
At the secondary schools, the number of students who tested positive for drug use dropped from 20 to 10. A total of 853 drug tests were administered in 2012-13.
Three schools had no students who tested "positive" for drugs - Avon Park, Lake Placid and Sebring middle schools.
Despite having the largest enrollment of the district's nine elementary schools, Lake Placid Elementary had only 86 discipline referrals in 2011-12 and 67 in 2012-13. Lake Country Elementary also had a small number of referrals, 27 in 2011-12 and 34 in 2012-13.
By comparison, the seven other elementary schools (not counting Lake Placid nor Lake Country) had an average of 269 discipline referrals in the 2012-13 school year.
Conner credited her teachers' efforts in educating their students about appropriate behavior.
Teachers spend a lot of time telling the kids what they expect and setting them up for success, she said.
The school has implemented the Positive Behavioral Support program and, through a grant, will be doing the Leader in Me program in the upcoming school year, she said.
"We try to deal with it the best we can within school and we use referrals for the extreme cases," Conner said. "And as a general rule we have good kids and supportive parents; we are just very blessed."