Board of Education

Better support and direction for school districts, a continued focus on social-emotional and character development and examining the current state law are just a few of the recommendations to address bullying presented Tuesday, Dec. 10, to the Kansas State Board of Education.

Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson in April 2019 appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force to examine issues of bullying in the state’s schools. He asked that the task force return with recommendations to the State Board of Education by December 2019.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying was comprised of 35 members and had its first meeting on April 25 in Topeka. The task force had six public meetings across the state and invited people to make written and oral comments. Meetings took place in Clearwater, Garden City, Salina, Girard, Lawrence and Topeka.

James Regier, superintendent of Remington-Whitewater Unified School District 206, and Dr. Rick Ginsberg, University of Kansas dean of education, served as co-chairs of the task force.

The task force offered seven main recommendations. They are, in no particular order, as following;

Better support and direction for school districts. The task force said “more direction and supports are needed” to help school districts adopt bullying policies and plans and make provisions for training. “A statewide unit should be established or appointed to offer guidance and support school districts as they implement policies, plans and training,” the task force wrote in its report.

Continue and develop the state’s focus on social-emotional and character development education to address school bullying. “Social-emotional growth is one of the five measured outcomes in the Kansans Can initiative,” the report stated. “Resources and supports available related to these initiatives in Kansas need to be shared through better communication efforts.”

Examine the current state law and determine if it requires reconsideration. The Kansas law on bullying is “broad and somewhat inconsistent with research identifying bullying as repetitive over time and involving a power imbalance,” the task force wrote in its report. “The same inconsistency is evident in the state definition of cyberbullying.” The report recommends that the State Board of Education examine the current state law and provide appropriate guidance.

Local policies and plans must focus on relationships, school climate and culture, and the mental health impact of bullying in schools. “To positively impact bullying behavior, schools need to focus on peer and adult-student relationships,” the report stated. “Any bullying plan must address the differing needs of students and staff identified by research regarding, but not limited to, biological sex, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religious faith and socio-economic status.”

The state needs better data on school bullying and measures for assessing program effectiveness. The Communities that Care survey is an “ambitious effort to gather information from students across multiple dimensions,” the task force wrote in the final report. The survey has seven questions regarding bullying. However, no collectively accepted measures for assessing bullying exist in Kansas. “It is recommended that the KTCC survey continue to be administered but improved,” the report stated. “In addition, the need for school climate and other teacher surveys should be considered. Districts need guidance in determining which bullying programs are truly evidenced based.”

Addressing cyberbullying. Districts need to consider specific plans regarding cyberbullying and work with teachers, students, families, caregivers and technology/social media experts in finding effective measures for addressing this behavior, according to the report.

Training, professional development and teacher preparation. In order for schools to implement any program effectively, time, resources and effective training are key, the report stated. “Training for in-service teachers and pre-service teachers on issues related to bullying and youth suicide prevention is recommended,” according to the report. The most promising anti-bullying practices are schoolwide, universal and include a parent/family component.

The task force was comprised of people from a wide array of backgrounds, Regier said, which allowed for a variety of viewpoints.

“It has been an honor to serve with this group of people,” Regier said. “They volunteered their time to tackle a difficult issue.”

Ginsberg agreed.

“It made me proud to be a Kansan,” he said. “This is a community that has identified an issue that needed to be addressed. Bullying is an issue in all schools.”

State Board of Education members and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson thanked the task force for their work on the report.

“This is a world-class report completed by 35 people on their own time,” Watson said.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to take action on the report in January 2020.

For more information about the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying or to read the full report, visit https://www.ksde.org/Default.aspx?tabid=527.

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