Kansas Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying finalizes report

The Kansas Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying on Monday finalized its report, offering a wide range of recommendations aimed at helping schools reduce bullying.

The report says schools should provide a safe and caring environment and that anti-bullying plans must address the differing needs of staff and students identified by sex, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religious faith and socio-economic status. The task force also recommends new resources of funding for more mental health workers in schools.

The task force’s work will be presented to the State Board of Education on Dec. 10 and then later to the legislative education committees during the 2020 session, which starts Jan. 13.

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson appointed the task force in April after some legislators had indicated schools needed to do more to reduce bullying.

In Kansas, 56 percent of sixth-graders; 63 percent of eighth-graders and 60 percent of 10th-graders and 12th-graders self-reported having seen someone bullied, according to the Kansas Communities That Cares Survey. Overall, 27.3 percent of Kansas students completing the survey in sixth-12th grades reported being bullied at school with 18 percent indicating it was in the form of cyberbullying.

After seven months of meetings, taking public comment and studying various strategies, the task force said teachers, staff, students, parents and community members should be involved in anti-bullying efforts.

“Bullied students are at a high risk for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, academic difficulties, substance abuse, delinquency and other negative behaviors,” the report states.

The task force’s major recommendations include:

— 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.

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