Take bullying seriously

The Kansas State Board of Education was smart not to mandate a specific statewide antibullying program. But districts need to make sure they are working to prevent bullying and are responding immediately and effectively when it does occur.

The board discussed bullying at its November meeting and again at its December meeting last week. The issue was brought up by board member Walt Chappell of Wichita, who said that incidents of violence and disruption at schools were increasing.

School districts already are required to have anti-bullying programs. But Chappell is concerned that some districts aren’t appropriately enforcing their policies.

The board considered requiring a statewide anti-bullying curriculum but decided it would be better if local districts continued to develop and select programs that best fit their local needs. That makes sense, given the varying sizes and concerns of Kansas school districts.

Wichita superintendent John Allison and administrators from the Maize school district made presentations to the board about what their school districts are doing about bullying. They discussed some of the student and staff training they do and how they are raising awareness about bullying.

One group USD 259 is targeting is the “silent majority” of students who witness bullying but don’t do anything about it. The district is trying to teach them that it is their responsibility — to their fellow students, their school and the overall culture — to report such incidents. This year the district launched a program in which students can anonymously report bullying concerns using text messaging or the Internet. It has received more than 100 tips.

The state board did take some action aimed at drawing attention to the issue, such as asking for a resolution from the governor or Legislature to designate a week in October as bullying awareness week. It also is developing model character-development standards that schools can use.

“It’s a very serious problem, but school districts are working hard” to prevent bullying, said state board chairwoman Janet Waugh.

That’s true, and the overwhelming majority of Kansas schools are safe, healthy places for students. But even when districts work hard, there still can be bullying. That’s why it is important that teachers, administrators, students and parents respond effectively when it occurs.

Tragically, there have been several national incidents in recent years in which bullied teens went on to commit suicide or take guns to school. But there are many more kids who may dread going to school or have trouble concentrating in class because they are being bullied.

It is impossible to prevent all bullying, particularly when modern technology and social-networking sites have created many more ways and venues for it to happen. But we must keep trying.