Montgomery County Council members Tuesday urged school officials to do more to combat bullying that they say is going chronically underreported.

According to a school survey, 18 out of 38 middle schools and 16 out of 26 high schools had no incidents of bullying during the 2009-2010 school year.

Reported bullying incidents
All schoolsElementaryMiddleHigh
Number of bullying incidents303*14211832
Schools with 10+ reported incidents6240
Schools with five to nine reported incidents14473
Figures are from the 2009-2010 school year
* There were 11 reported incidents at MCPS special schools

However, at least one-third of students said bullying was a problem at all but one of those secondary schools -- and in total, more than 54 percent of students surveyed said bullying was an issue at their school.

"Those numbers don't wash, which means there are incidents that go unreported," said Councilman Craig Rice, D-Germantown. "What I'd like to see is more of a message from the school system that says it's OK to report

these incidents, that there won't be a black eye on the school."

The lack of enforcement, council members said, fosters an environment where one in four students surveyed at 31 public middle and high schools did not agree with the statement "I feel safe in school." And about 77 percent of high school students said they felt safe at school compared with 92 percent of parents.

Under county policy, a student must notify a school employee or a parent about being bullied. The adult then fills out a two-page form before someone in authority investigates the situation.

"There are so many barriers for kids stepping forward, not the least of which is that the school system has yet to demonstrate there will be real consequences," said Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda/Potomac.

When Berliner asked Frank Stetson, the chief school performance officer, to grade the county's anti-bullying efforts, Stetson replied, "We're past the midway mark."

He added, "I think the awareness level has increased tremendously."

Officials in the state's attorney's office also pointed to a surge in requests from principals for presentations on bullying.

Yet, Superintendent Jerry Weast recently acknowledged that schools still "don't have a lot of good remedy" for those who report the incidents.

In a system of roughly 140,000 students, there were just 303 bullying incidents reported last school year.

Examiner Staff Writer Lisa Gartner contributed to this report.