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Kansas Officials To Students: Tell Us How We Can Help Prevent Bullying

Chris Neal
For the Kansas News Service
Students walk to class at a Topeka high school.

TOPEKA — Bullying just won’t go away. If anything, the advent of smartphones and social media has made it worse.

That’s forced a conversation on what Kansas schools can do to help. The problem? It’s easier to get adults to weigh in than students.

But for kids and teens out there who have suffered or witnessed bullying online or in person, the state wants you to tell adults what you think they should know. (And for the record: Parents, teachers and others who deal with bullying, your input is welcome, too.)

Earlier this year, Kansas put together a panel of teachers, counselors, officials and others to craft recommendations that will go to the Kansas State Board of Education for consideration this winter.

Kansas has had an anti-bullying law for more than a decade with basic requirements for school policies and procedures.

It’s too early to know what new measures the panel will suggest. It could be anything from tweaks to state policies to guidance on how schools should handle bullying incidents.

“Some of those things are already there,” said Myron Melton, who works for the state Department of Education. “But we know that they haven’t been fully effective in remedying the problem. Our goal now is to say, what’s missing?”

Anyone can send in their thoughts and ideas by email, but should know that those letters become part of the panel’s meetings and materials. They are available to the public and archived online.

Instructions for writing to the panel

The education department also has a chat room dedicated to the topic that functions similar to a closed Facebook group. It’s hosted on the pro-privacy social media platform called MeWe; only people age 16 and older can use it.

Cyberbullying on the rise

Asurvey released by the U.S. Department of Education last month shows an uptick in cyberbullying reports. And girls were more likely than boys to say others had bullied them through social media and texts.

Equality Kansas, a civil rights group that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, pushed for the anti-bullying legislation more than a decade ago and has called for additional measures since.

“There are districts that have done the absolute bare minimum” under the current law, executive director Tom Witt said. Others “have gone all out in educating their faculty and students on bullying prevention.”

“And there’s no correlation between the size of the district and the quality of their bullying prevention efforts,” he added. “It’s real spotty.”

Among the changes Equality Kansas wants to see: Require all districts to explain their anti-bullying policies, procedures and prevention efforts online, and give hard copies of those policies to students and parents at enrollment.

That would help solve the problem of students not knowing how to seek help, who at their district handles bullying allegations and in what way they process those allegations.

Witt said his organization frequently gets questions about how students can seek help or how a district handles bullying allegations, and parents get frustrated when schools aren’t responsive.

“It’s a persistent problem with at least a partial solution,” he said.

The anti-bullying panel’s public meetings wrap up Dec. 2, so comments should be submitted before then.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @Celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

I write about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. My goal is to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.
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