KU program would help curb bullying

A Kansas University professor hopes to start a new certificate program at KU’s School of Education to help K-12 educators identify and respond to incidents of bullying.

Robert Harrington, a professor in the department of psychology and research in education, has taught at KU for 33 years. A paper he presented on the topic to the Irish International Conference on Education in April has been accepted for publication in the Literacy Education and Computer Education Journal. The research is based on surveys sent to school districts in Kansas.

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“You can’t really address bullying unless you can know what it is and you have a policy and a plan in place to deal with it,” he said.

His research revealed that many places in Kansas don’t have a good policy in place, even though it’s required by law.

“If you don’t have a policy, then you don’t have a place from which to work,” he said.

He hopes to soon expand his bullying coursework to create an advanced certificate program in the school.

When children are bullied, three options are available, Harrington said. One, a child can stay the victim and suffer depression, anxiety and other issues. Two, if a child is big enough or strong enough, the child can become a bully in response to the action.

The third way, to report the action, is the only one that really works, he said. A statewide anonymous hotline (1-800-CHILDREN) recently set up by the Kansas Children’s Service League and the Kansas Department of Education is a step in the right direction, he said.

The problem in many cases, Harrington said, is that much of the time when a child reports bullying nothing happens.

Harrington argues that suspending students for bullying doesn’t address the underlying issues. He said he tells teachers it’s like having a child sit in timeout until he learns how to read.

A better solution involves meeting with the parties involved to provide replacement behaviors that can have a better long-term effect, he said.

Schools should also expand their policies to include bullying incidents that take place off school property, including to and from school and on the bus, Harrington said.

“If you know about it, you’re culpable,” he said.

In the Lawrence school district, each school building is responsible for coming up with its own bullying policy, though the district does have required elements that must be in each policy, said Kevin Harrell, the district’s division director of student intervention services.

The policies do call for suspension of students in some cases, he said, though it’s rare, and it usually involves cases in which someone is in danger.

“If we’ve got to that level where suspension is needed, there’s a safety issue in place,” Harrell said.

He agreed that getting students and others to report bullying issues was a good goal.

“The more that people report, that’s what we want,” Harrell said.