Implementing additional social-emotional learning activities, defining a clear definition of bullying and allocating resources for school- and district-based research to monitor bullying incidents and responses were just a few of the suggestions made to the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying on Tuesday, May 28, during a regional meeting in Clearwater.
The meeting, which took place at the Orion Education and Training Center, was the first in a series of six regional meetings taking place across the state.
Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson announced in March 2019 the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying to research and identify current bullying trends, data and prevention measures occurring across the state in an effort to understand better how to combat this complex issue.
The group also is reviewing work in the areas of social-emotional learning; reviewing current statutes, regulations and policies to determine need for change; and identifying possible avenues that could reduce and prevent incidents of bullying and cyber bullying.
Regional meetings take place from 10 a.m.to 2 p.m. with a public comment session offered at each location. Remaining regional site meetings are:
• Tuesday, June 18: Garden City, location to be determined.
• Monday, Aug. 5: Salina, Smoky Hill Education Service Center, 605 E. Crawford.
• Wednesday, Sept. 25: Girard, Greenbush Education Service Center, 947 W. 47 Highway.
• Wednesday, Nov. 6: Lawrence, Greenbush Resource Center, 1104 E. 1000 Road.
• Monday, Dec. 2: Lawrence, Greenbush Resource Center, 1104 E. 1000 Road.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying is co-chaired by Dr. Rick Ginsberg, dean of the University of Kansas School of Education, and James Regier, superintendent of Whitewater-Remington Unified School District 206. There are 37 members serving on the Task Force, including teachers, business leaders, Kansas State Board of Education members, mental health facilitators, school administrators, legislators, parents, organization leaders and more.
Twenty-five Task Force members attended the Clearwater meeting in person, with another six members taking part via Zoom.
“There are no easy answers, but with the group assembled here, I believe progress can be made,” Regier said about the issue of bullying.
The information gathered during the listening tours will be compiled and used to develop recommendations to present to the State Board of Education later this year.
The Task Force at the Clearwater meeting reviewed information from the Kansas Communities That Care Student Survey (KCTS), a voluntary, confidential assessment of teen substance abuse. The survey also provides a baseline for teen participation in, perception of and attitudes toward both prosocial and antisocial behavior at the peer, school, family and community levels. The survey provides a measurable level of risk and protective factors that influence behavior, attitudes and opinions of Kansas teens, according to the survey's website, http://kctcdata.org.
During the 2018-2019 school year, there were 232 Kansas school districts and nine private systems that participated in the survey.
The survey asks a series of questions about bullying, such as "During this school year, how often have you seen someone being bullied?" Fifty-six percent of depressed students reported being bullied, while 81 percent of nondepressed students reported no bullying, one survey measure showed.
Recommendations from survey staff members included:
• Encouraging local level surveillance of student bullying behavior through KCTC Student Survey participation.
• Maintaining parent consent for students to participate in the survey, but allow families to opt out rather than having them opt in, which is currently the case.
• Encouraging use of data for local-level bullying prevention planning and monitoring to support outcomes.
• Increasing awareness by sharing local data with community stakeholders.
Sharon Kniss, coordinator of the Restorative Schools Initiative for the Kansas Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), shared about restorative justice in schools.
Recommendations from KIPCOR included:
• Embedding explicit support for the use of restorative approaches for bullying and other behavior in the school code.
• Allocating funding for at least five years for school and district-based training and coaching on the use of restorative approaches in situations of bullying.
• Allocating resources for school- and district-based research to monitor and evaluate bullying incidents and responses.
Two people - James Sutton, superintendent of Belle Plaine Unified School District 357, and Liz Hamor, chapter director for Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Kansas - gave public comments. A Topeka mother, Keri Strahler, provided written comments.
Defining the term bullying was a recommendation by Sutton and others. Sutton said he would like to see the Task Force develop a "hard definition (of bullying) that everyone can rally around."
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