Wichita Activists said problems in a Wichita-area school district have convinced them to renew their efforts to convince the Kansas Legislature to expand the definition of bullying and cyberbullying.
The Wichita Eagle reported Tuesday that parents from the Wichita area and State Board of Education member Walt Chappell are pushing modifications to a bullying law passed in 2007. The law requires districts to implement anti-bullying plans but doesn’t say how districts should handle or track reports of bullying.
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There’s a firestorm, actually,” said Chappell, who leaves the board in January but has raised the bullying issue for the past three years.
Chappell said he would bring up the topic again as the state board meets this week in Topeka.
“The response (from school district officials) so far has been, ‘It’s fine. Don’t worry. We’re covered,’ and that’s not even close to reality,” Chappell said. “We need to do something to secure the safety of children, and yet we can’t get past the denial stage.”
Calls for the legislation were prompted by bullying incidents in the Haysville district. Parents say they want districts to make sure students are safe.
The parents of a 14-year-old Haysville Campus High School student led a protest at the school last week, saying the school didn’t respond appropriately when their daughter was severely bullied.
About 50 students staged a counter protest with signs reading “Honk if you love Campus” and chanting, “Campus is safe.”
Miranda Miller said school officials agreed to transfer her daughter to an alternative high school. The family said the school initially denied the request because the girl is a freshman. Her daughter, who had threatened suicide, is doing better and is seeing a counselor, she said.
Miller says she will help with the statewide efforts and has heard from other parents who are concerned that bullying goes unreported or is “brushed off as kids being kids.”
The Kansas Association of School Boards has opposed the law proposed by Chappell and debated during the 2012 legislative session because it would have required districts to spend more time working on bullying when they lack staff and money.
“We could require more reporting, more paperwork, more things to turn in than ever before. But I’ve not seen any evidence that suggests those things actually make the situation better,” said Mark Tallman, associate executive director of KASB.
Chappell’s proposal would require districts to investigate bullying reports in a short time frame, use state-mandated options for discipline and report incidents to the state.
“This is one of a long list of places and issues where people feel our schools aren’t doing well enough: ‘Why aren’t they taking care of this?’” Tallman said. “The challenge is, how do you balance those needs with all the other needs?”
Liz Hames, spokeswoman for Haysville public schools, declined to discuss the Miller incidents. She said Haysville takes bullying seriously and has instituted several education and prevention measures.
School handbooks define bullying and potential consequences, which range from temporary removal from the classroom and loss of privileges to suspension or expulsion.
Hames said Haysville recorded 97 bullying incidents among the district’s 5,200 students. In comparison, there were 356 cases reported in the Wichita school district, which has more than 50,000 students.