Not too long ago -- or not long ago enough, anyway -- Katie O'Malley met a Maryland student who filled out the proper bullying incident forms each time he was the target of his peers.
One day, his principal asked him to stop. The boy was "making their school look bad" by boosting the bullying data reported to the state, the principal explained.
"We still have so much more to do," Maryland's first lady said Monday, speaking at the third annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit, put on by the U.S. Department of Education.
Last year, 4,678 bullying incidents were reported in Maryland, a number that's been climbing since the state enacted the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005, which requires school districts to report bullying incidents and created complaint forms for victims.
But although the state's anti-bullying laws are considered among the nation's best, Gov. Martin O'Malley's wife acknowledged that the state is still fighting to clamp down on bullying.
The new state superintendent, Lillian Lowery, is urging local districts to make bullying reporting forms available online and amping up efforts to train administrators to respond appropriately to bullying reports.
"We tell a kid to talk to a trusted adult," O'Malley said. "Sometimes they will do that, but the adult doesn't really know how to respond."
The Maryland State Department of Education is also developing a "technical assistance guide" describing the effect bullying has on school culture, to be available next school year in guidance counselors' offices.
The state is also working with Rosalind Wiseman, the author of "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence." The book inspired the feature film "Mean Girls," and O'Malley says she already has gleaned tips from Wiseman such as making sure guidance counselor offices are private and secure for students who wish to report bullying.
According to surveys by the Centers for Disease Control last year, 21.2 percent of Maryland high-school students said they had been bullied on school property in the past year, slightly higher than the national response rate of 20.1 percent. When it came to cyber-bullying, 14.2 percent of Maryland high school students said they had been victims of online teasing, which tended to be more prevalent for female students than males. Nationally, 16.2 percent of high schoolers said they had been cyber-bullied that year.