Montgomery school officials are troubled that a high percentage of students and teachers say bullying is a problem at schools where no incidents have been officially reported. At Montgomery Village Middle School, 72 percent of students and 82 percent of teachers agreed in a schools survey that "In this school, students bullying other students is a problem" -- yet zero bullying incidents were reported, let alone confirmed.

No bullies here?
High schools with zero official bullying reports, 2009-2010
School Students who say bullying is a problem at this school Teachers who say bullying is a problem at this school
Bethesda Chevy-Chase 41% 31%
Montgomery Blair 44% 40%
James Hubert Blake 48% 40%
Winston Churchill 43% 42%
Thomas Edison 28% 11%
Albert Einstein 44% 39%
Northwest 53% 45%
Northwood 54% 49%
Paint Branch 48% 46%
Quince Orchard 40% 30%
Rockville 46% 58%
Seneca Valley 50% 39%
Watkins Mill 53% 45%
Wheaton 53% 51%
Walt Whitman 35% 22%
Middle schools with zero official bullying reports, 2009-2010
School Students who say bullying is a problem at this school Teachers who say bullying is a problem at this school
Briggs Chaney 65% 66%
Forest Oak 66% 69%
Gaithersburg 62% 44%
Herbert Hoover 35% 57%
Francis Scott Key 67% 63%
Col E. Brooke Lee 66% 50%
A. Mario Loiederman 63% 71%
Montgomery Village 72% 82%
Neelsville 75% 66%
Newport Mill 62% 73%
John Pool 54% 62%
Ridgeview 58% 73%
Silver Spring Int's 65% 49%
Sligo 71% 75%
Takoma 48% 41%
White Oak 61% 54%
Earl B. Wood 55% 29%
*Three reported incidents at Sligo but none confirmed.

According to the official incident reports, 18 out of 38 middle schools and 16 out of 26 high schools were bully-free in the 2009-2010 school year. But at least one-third of students said bullying was a problem at every one of those secondary schools but Thomas Edison, a vocational high school with a high special-needs population. At all but two of those middle schools, more than half of students agreed that bullying was a school problem.

"I think the question as we go forward is ... are staff familiar with the obligations they have, if they've seen an incident?" said Frank Stetson, chief school performance officer for Montgomery County Public Schools. "Are they seeing these incidents or do they just believe they're going on based on hearsay they're receiving?"

The school system adopted a new bullying, harassment and intimidation policy last summer in compliance with Maryland's Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005. A student notifies a "teacher, counselor, staff member, principal, parent, or close adult relative," who completes a two-page, 12-question form. A principal, or designee, "promptly" investigates the incident.

Superintendent Jerry Weast said students are reluctant to report bullying because "we don't have a lot of good remedy" for those who come forward.

"It takes a lot of effort ... a hearing, the proving, it has to be found and substantiated -- it's just laborious," Weast said. "I think people who get bullied tend to wonder, is it worth it to deal with it."

Board of Education member Judy Docca said staff may need more training on how to act when they discover bullying. "I think teachers and staff in the classroom don't really know what to say, like 'That's just how boys are,' or 'Just ignore that teasing,' " said Docca, who lives in Montgomery Village and is a former principal with the school system.

Docca warned against pinning the phenomenon on tech toys. "It's the old-fashioned bullying where kids are calling kids other names, or isolating them," Docca said. "Don't throw your hands up and say it's cyberbullying and there's nothing we can do about it."