Owensboro Ind., Daviess Co. administrators say statewide definition of bullying helpful for schools, but may not reduce incidents or cyberbullying

Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, April 1, 2016

Legislation defines bullying for state schools
SB 228 ready for governor
By Don Wilkins

For years, Kentucky school systems have determined their own standards for bullying.

But legislation passed by the General Assembly on Tuesday creates a statewide definition that has now gone to Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature.

Senate Bill 228 defines bullying as "any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated."

Under the law, the bullying definition will be applied when it "occurs on school premises, on school-sponsored transportation, or at a school-sponsored event; or that disrupts the education process."

David Johnson, chief operating officer of Owensboro Public Schools, said he agrees with having a uniform bullying definition but doubts that it will reduce the behavior.

"I'm not sure the definition is going to help us," Johnson said. "I wish we had something that would stop bullying. ...Our administrators, our counselors and our teachers have all been through training not only to keep it from happening but also be to able to recognize it quickly. We try to build relationships with kids so they know they can talk to an adult if they feel like they're being harassed or bullied."

Damon Fleming, director of student services for Daviess County Public Schools, said the SB 228's definition is the same one that the Kentucky Center for Safe Schools has recommended for years.

However, it wasn't mandated for school systems to adopt under their policies and procedures.

"I do like that it will be law and that it defines what bullying is," Fleming said. "I think it will help clarify some things for parents, students and maybe even some school districts throughout the state. ...Before, it was just an interpretation."

The bullying bill, sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, a Paducah Republican, was the result of a recommendation made by the Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force to reduce youth bullying and to help foster safer, harassment-free school environments.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education's 2014-15 Safe Schools Annual Statistical Report, there were 18,842 statewide cases of bullying or harassment. That was down from 20,172 reported in the 2013-14 school year.

In the 2014-15 school year, the highest number of bullying/harassment reports came from the seventh grade — 3,099 — and eighth grade — 3,109. Once students entered high school, the number of bullying/harassment reports dropped as students went up in grade level — 2,709 in the ninth grade, 1,830 in the 10th grade, 1,084 in the 11th grade and 630 in the 12th grade.

To help battle bullying, DCPS has also implemented the Safety Tipline Online Prevention, or STOP.

Students, parents or members of the community can anonymously report any unsafe situations, including bullying, weapons or drugs, through a website that sends a report immediately to DCPS administrators.

Fleming said social media has added another dynamic to bullying that wasn't there 20 years ago.

"Students today have more access to technology and social media," Fleming said. "...If a child is being bullied on social media, it’s with them 24 hours a day."

Fleming, however, said cyberbullying isn't necessarily covered under SB 228's definition.

"If you had an incident on social media that happened away from school, the only time we would be involved is if it's disrupting the educational process at a school," Fleming said.

If Bevin signs SB 228, it would become law and go into effect before the next school year.

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