A recent report from K-12 Dive says the return of students to physical classrooms after a year of remote learning has led to fears of a sharp increase in school bullying numbers, this according to Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

This concern is backed by anecdotal evidence from bullying prevention experts and school counselors, who say there’s not only been a return to bullying, but even a possible surge.

Here are the areas of concern to watch for:

Mask bullying

There have been reports of mask bullying in districts that don’t universally require them or in areas were mask wearing is lax. Students should be guided to respond that they’re wearing a mask to look out for their own and other students’ health.

Experts recommend placing boxes with locks and keys around schools where students can anonymously share reports of bullying. It’s important for students to see teachers and administrators checking and reading reports from the boxes, so their peers know bullying behaviors are monitored. Schools can also provide anonymous online reporting options for both students and parents.

There are also reports of younger students showing more signs of aggressive, irritable behavior recently. This trend of aggression, often in the form of fighting and pushing, is tied to growing stress levels among children who have not developed coping skills during the pandemic.

To address this problem, some schools have established a “calm corner” where children can decompress when they feel signs of stress. Teachers can also work with students for a month to help them identify their own stressors and make a personal plan when they feel overwhelmed.

Politics at school

Some principals have reported an uptick in bullying over gender identity and sexual orientation this fall, particularly around transgender bathroom use. This is just one example of politics entering schools, with students repeating what they’re hearing at home.

The solution: More one-on-one conversations with parents about the matter, no matter the political issue that’s making its way to campuses.

Hate speech

Hate speech and targeting students based on race and income level are also increasingly becoming a problem.

To find vulnerable students in need of help, experts suggest that students provide a trusted adult at school with the name of someone they feel safe to contact in any situation. If a student doesn’t provide a name, that should be addressed by creating a sense of belonging and establishing better connections with students.

Creating explicitly inclusive environments is important, but diversity and inclusion issues cannot be solved by major new school board policies alone. For example, a districtwide equity policy is not as effective as diversity or equity clubs run by students.

In-person aggression

Even though the latest data is not yet available, a recent study by Annenberg Institute at Brown University suggested school bullying and cyberbullying around 30-40% after schools transitioned to remote learning in spring 2020 and for the 2020-21 school year.

But bullying has increased since a majority of students returned to the classroom this fall too. There’s just more opportunity.

These developing problems are related to an overall need for more mental health resources.

There’s also recognition by schools for the need to provide social-emotional programs; yet with resources already stretched thin, reviving bullying prevention efforts is challenging.