Percentage of students who say they have been bullied at school has decreased slightly

A survey of Kansas students shows incidents of bullying at school have slightly decreased, but more students feel unsafe at school while officials said the state would benefit by a more comprehensive survey method.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying on Wednesday received updated results from the Kansas Communities That Care student survey. The survey is taken on a volunteer basis by students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades and tracks use of harmful substances and anti-social behaviors.

In 2018, 30.7 percent of sixth-graders said they were bullied at school at least once. That dropped to 28.6 percent in 2019. Eighth-graders who reported being bullied decreased from 30.2 percent to 27.4 percent; 10th-graders saw a decrease from 24.9 percent to 23.1 percent and 12th-graders dropped from 20.4 percent to 19.6 percent. Students also reported a decrease in the number of bullying incidents witnessed.

Lisa Chaney, director of research and evaluation for Greenbush (the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center), presented the findings to the task force, which is charged with making recommendations on reducing bullying to the State Board of Education and Legislature.

Chaney urged the task force to encourage school districts to participate in the survey. The survey has been administered since 1994 but in 2014 the Legislature changed the law to require parental consent for a student to fill out the survey. Some have complained the survey asks inappropriate questions. The change resulted in a significant decrease in students taking the survey and the volume of data to analyze. In 2013, nearly 100,000 students participated in the survey, while 37,500 participated the year after the parental consent requirement was implemented. The numbers have since climbed back up to 71,757, but still remain less than earlier levels.

Officials who support the survey said it is useful in tracking public health issues among youth, which helps secure and direct funding and programs to address specific challenges, such as drug abuse or mental health care.

In other business, the task force:

— Heard a report from Susan McMahan, school safety specialist with the Kansas State Department of Education. McMahan provided an overview of the state’s Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) system to report anonymously possible safety issues.

New posters have been provided to school districts that include the Kansas School Safety hotline (1-877-626-8203); the Parent and Youth Resource Hotline (for acts of bullying 1-800-332-6378) and the SAR, which includes a QR code, which officials say students are more apt to use in reporting school safety, violence and other issues. Here is the website link to start a suspicious activity report.

Suspicious activity may include an expressed threat; recurring, brief visits to and from a property; attempts to enter restricted areas; or signs of human trafficking indicating a person isn’t free to leave.

— Had a discussion with Pattie Noonan, a researcher at the University of Kansas, who works with schools on social-emotional learning and trains teachers on how to help students become assertive.

Noonan says students who develop interpersonal skills of assertiveness are better able to manage conflict, including bullying, without being aggressive or passive.

For example, she said, students at the pre-K level, should know how to ask for help, express basic feelings and demonstrate the ability to say no. Students in ninth though 12th grade should be able to say and write assertive statements, predict and affect outcomes and demonstrate assertiveness in various situations.

— Received written comments from elementary and middle school administrators from Andover USD 358 on bullying. The schools use a variety of programs to build relationships between students and teachers and use professional development on trauma-informed practices.

Work groups in the task force will meet Oct. 30 in Wichita and the full task force will meet again Nov. 6 in Lawrence.

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