TOPEKA — State Board of Education members said Wednesday that Kansas should do more to combat bullying in its public schools, but most were wary of imposing new programs or standards on local districts.
The board directed the Department of Education's staff to develop proposals for collecting statistics on bullying and ensuring that parents and students can get an independent review of alleged bullying incidents in each district.
Board members expect to tackle the issue again at their December meeting and appear likely to start compiling statewide statistics on bullying. But board member Walt Chappell, D-Wichita, wants the board to set statewide standards for anti-bullying programs.
The board's discussion followed reports in September and October of a string of suicides nationally among gay teens who had been bullied. Also, an incident in which a Hutchinson high school student was allegedly tied up with a jump rope by four other students was referred last week to the Kansas Attorney General's Office.
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"Something has to be done," Chappell said. "We have to provide some leadership."
A 2008 state law requires each of the state's 293 school districts to have anti-bullying policies in place, and most have adopted guidelines from the Kansas Association of School Boards.
The state makes sure each district has a policy, but Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said it doesn't review them. The state also doesn't require districts to keep statistics on bullying incidents.
Kansas traditionally gives local boards of education leeway to set policies in each district, though the state board does establish academic standards.
"I think there's some things we can do, but I don't want to tell districts which program to use," said board member Kathy Martin, R-Clay Center.
Board members agreed they want the state to collect statistics from local districts about bullying. They also agreed parents and students need some recourse — and appeal to an independent panel, for example — if they don't think incidents are being handled properly.
Board member David Dennis, R-Wichita, said even those ideas need some study so the state knows how much they'll cost and what exactly they'll require of districts.
"Why are we jumping out and making knee-jerk reactions?" Dennis said.