Schools need to be safe, secure

Schools need to be safe and secure in order to foster learning. That's why it's troubling that reported incidents of bullying and violence in the Wichita school district have increased in recent years.

But it's encouraging that district officials take the problem seriously and are working both to prevent such incidents and to respond aggressively when they do occur.

There were 919 battery complaints in USD 259 during the past school year, according to district data. That's up by 19 percent from four years ago and up 34 percent from three years ago. Reports of bullying have increased nearly 90 percent since 2007, with 252 incidents reported in the 2009-10 school year. Suspensions and expulsions also are up.

District officials say the increases are due in part to better reporting. The district has made a big push to educate students and teachers about bullying and sexual harassment and to encourage them to report problems.

It's also important to put the number of incidents in context. Though 252 incidents of bullying last school year is a lot, USD 259 has 50,000 students and 100 schools and learning centers.

Still, even one act of violence or bullying is too much for the particular student involved, and the trend of increasing numbers of incidents is serious. So it's good that the district is trying to address problems and make schools safer.

District officials are planning to spend up to $480,000 on a new program, Safe & Civil Schools, to reduce bad behavior. The program will gather detailed data on disciplinary issues and classroom disruptions and will train teachers on solutions that have worked in other districts facing similar concerns.

Regrettably, the program is starting up at the same time the city and district eliminated school resource officers from middle schools. The officers helped monitor halls and work with troubled kids.

Problems with bullying or harassment are compounded if school officials don't treat incidents seriously. So it's good that the district has a parent and community support network (call 316-973-4668) that assists parents who don't think that a particular school's administrators or teachers are dealing appropriately with a problem. School leaders also need to be careful not to appear defensive or dismissive of concerns about increasing incidents of violence.

It is impossible to eliminate every act of bullying or violence, particularly in a district the size of Wichita. But district officials and teachers need to try.