Anti-bullying task force receives expert testimony

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying met in Salina on Monday to continue gathering data and public input. The task force will make recommendations to the Kansas Legislature in January 2020. 

As the task force meets across the state, a new national report offers some insights into the bullying; you can read KASB Associate Executive Director for Advocacy and Communications Mark Tallman’s blog about it at this link. 

Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson announced the formation of the Task Force in March, citing data that 28 percent of students in grades six through twelve experience bullying. Bullying has also been debated by the Kansas Legislature and several bills have been proposed over the past several years. The state anti-bullying statute was adopted in 2007 and revised in 2008.  

The Task Force is co-chaired by Dr. Rick Ginsberg, Dean of the University of Kansas School of Education, and James Regier, Superintendent of Remington-Whitewater USD 206. KASB is represented on the Task Force by President-Elect Lori Blake, a board member for Southeast of Saline USD 306, and General Counsel Donna Whiteman. 

Each task force meeting opens with an opportunity for public comments. In Salina, Vicki Price of Child Advocacy and Parenting Services (CAPS) said schools and parents must work together to teach empathy to children. Price works in the Salina USD 305 schools and also teaches kids to “be assertive but not aggressive” and use a “strong, calm voice and confident posture and speech” which she observed helps prevent students from becoming victims of bullying. Regarding anti-bullying curriculum, Price said it must empower victims and stress that if kids stand together against bullying, they have more power than adults.  

University of Kansas researcher Dr. Paula Fite, who conducts research on peer aggression and victimization, presented some findings to the task force. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to eradicate bullying, but we can make kids more resilient so they can have better educational outcomes and prevent and reduce peer victimization,” Fite said. 

Fite said peer victimization involves bullies, victims and bystanders and that dynamic must be addressed in schools that are working to prevent bullying. “Virtually all students at some point in their life will be a bystander” to bullying behavior, she said, and bystanders are also negatively affected by that behavior.  

Fite recommended anti-bullying policies be clear, explicit, and list clear and consistent reporting, investigating and tracking procedures on which all teachers and administrators are trained. She also noted that it can be helpful for the policy to spell out that bullying behavior based on race, ethnicity, religion, social class or sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited. Task force member Jim Persinger of Emporia State University said the Kansas Communities that Care survey, which is administered each year in schools, has data showing bullying occurs based on several of those factors, but those characteristics aren’t typically enumerated in school district anti-bullying policies. 

Fite said her research found aggression takes place at home, at a friend’s house, in the neighborhood, and at school. “It’s not just a school problem, and it tends to occur in situations in which there’s less adult supervision,” she said. Fite also noted cyberbullying often takes place off school grounds but spills over into the school climate. 

KASB’s Whiteman said schools are in a difficult position on cyberbullying because they can only discipline students for on-campus behavior. She said principals are “constantly struggling” to establish positive school culture and capacity, “but it’s critical to involve parents as well.” 

Task force members also discussed the positive impacts of school-based mental health services. A pilot program established by the state legislature has seen good results from a partnership with community mental health organizations, and a KSDE pilot promoting professional coaching for school mental health helps build school capacity, officials said. 

The task force’s next meeting is September 25 at the Greenbush Service Center in Girard.  

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