In 2010, seven of every 10 participants of a Kansas middle school and high school survey saw someone bullied at least once a month at school.
Nearly one-third of those sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders said they were bullied themselves at least monthly.
And 30 percent of those Kansas students said they would ignore bullying if they saw it.
Kansas State Board of Education members at 10:15 a.m. today are scheduled to receive an update about efforts of school districts to deal with bullying. It’s in response to a 2008 state requirement that all districts put policies and practices in place to address bullying behavior.
School district administrators say efforts to ramp up awareness about bullying in schools — in Lawrence and elsewhere — have brought the issue to the attention of students and parents.
“The more you bring something to the forefront and identify what it is you may be seeing, you’re going to get more people saying this is going on,” said Kevin Harrell, the Lawrence district’s division director of student intervention services.
Prior to 2008 some Lawrence schools already implemented bullying prevention and intervention programs. The district began to put more policies in place to address things like cyberbullying, where students use computer and social networking accounts to harass other students. Each school was also required to develop and implement its own policies to address bullying.
Sunflower School, 2521 Inverness Drive, had an anti-bullying initiative in place before the state mandate.
Lisa Mason, the PTO president, said Sunflower’s guidance counselor, administrators and teachers work kids through bullying awareness programs. Posters are up in the hallway to reiterate the policy among students that bullying is an ongoing harmful behavior where one student seeks power over another.
Mason saw the system in action a couple of years ago when her son and other students had recurring problems with another student. He would constantly kick in the stall on students trying to use the restroom. The student didn’t stop the behavior after reprimands from teachers and administrators — until the school notified his parents.
“Once you get the parents involved, I think it helps a lot,” Mason said.
Bob Harrington, a Kansas University professor of psychology and research in education who teaches a class about anti-bullying initiatives, said his students found during the 2008-2009 school year that many Kansas schools had terse definitions of bullying in their policies. He said their plans for dealing with bullying were often too reliant on suspensions, which is less effective for curbing the behavior.
“The best approach to bullying is to teach skills and to deal with problem solving,” Harrington said.
He lauded the Lawrence and De Soto districts for their schoolwide policies and character education programs that involve parents, teachers and students.
The overall number of bullying incidents are likely leveling off, but the problems seem to be getting more severe in their intensity, Harrington said. Schools have also had to adjust to deal with cyberbullying.
“Now this could go on 24 hours a day with texting and YouTube, and some kids will actually organize it so that it goes on 24-7,” Harrington said.
Seungyeon Lee, a KU doctoral student and Harrington’s graduate teaching assistant, said students who are learning English as their second language can be prone to bullying because they won’t always understand their classroom environment.
“Teachers and principals have to be really careful to what they’re doing,” she said. “The best way is to make students be part of a community.”
During their meeting today in Topeka, state board members will hear about possible next steps.
Harrell said Lawrence school administrators will continue to monitor data and review schools’ plans to see where they can make adjustments.
“We have to look at the emotional and mental health of our students,” he said. “When you look at the media and things that have happened, it’s something we have to take seriously. We really need to support students and help them find their voice and help them feel safe at school.”