State Board of Education approves task force report aimed at reducing school bullying

The State Board of Education on Tuesday approved a task force report that calls for a wide range of strategies to address bullying in schools.

Board member Jean Clifford, of Garden City, who served on the Blue Ribbon Bullying Task Force, said the recommendations “are going to go a long way to addressing the issue of bullying at schools.”

The 35-member task force, co-chaired by Rick Ginsberg, dean of the University of Kansas School of Education, and James Regier, superintendent of Whitewater-Remington USD 206, held meetings statewide and received input from numerous interests, including students.

The State Board approved the report 8-2 with Steve Roberts, of Overland Park, and Michelle Dombrosky, of Olathe, opposed. Roberts said he felt the report placed too many rules on already overworked teachers and Dombrosky expressed displeasure with the Kansas Communities that Care survey that is used to gather information on bullying and many other student issues.

But other board members praised the report and encouraged implementation of the recommendations.

Board Chair Kathy Busch, of Wichita, said the Kansas School Mental Health Advisory Council will  work on preparing task force recommendations for approval by the State Board.

The bullying task force recommended increased support for school districts, continued focus on social and emotional learning, examination of the current state law on bullying, focusing on school climate, improving bullying data collection, addressing cyber bullying and more teacher training.

Below are further details of the task force recommendations:

— Better support and direction for school districts. A statewide unit should be established to offer guidance and support to school districts as they implement policies, plans and training. A bank of promising practices needs to be collected and available for school districts.

— Continue and develop the state’s focus on social-emotional and character development education to address school bullying. Resources and supports on these initiatives need to be shared through better communication efforts.

— The State Board of Education should examine the current state law on bullying and determine if it requires changes and provide guidance.

— Local policies and plans must focus on relationships, school climate and culture, and the mental health impact of bullying in schools. Schools should strive to have at least the minimum recommended ratio of 1 to 250 school counselors and or social workers to students and a ratio of 1 to 500-700 school psychologists to students.

— The state needs better data on school bullying and measures for assessing program effectiveness. Improvements are recommended for the KCTC survey and school climate and teacher surveys should be considered to determine which bullying programs are evidence-based.

— Districts need to consider specific policies regarding cyberbullying and work with teachers, students, families, caregivers and technology/social media experts in finding effective ends for addressing this behavior.

— Training for in-service teachers and pre-service teachers on issues related to bullying and youth suicide prevention is recommended. The most promising practices to impact bullying behavior are those that are school-wide, universal and involve parents and families.

Here is a link to the full report.

The task force was appointed last year by Education Commissioner Randy Watson after legislators had proposed several proposals to address bullying.

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