The Harbinger Online

Kansas Legislature Updates Bullying Policy

Governor Sam Brownback updated the Kansas state bullying policy last spring for the 2013-2014 school year. Kansas bill No. 127 was placed on his desk on May 24. As he signed his name at the bottom of the bill, he was, according to Kansas state Sen. Pat Pettey, revamping the state bullying policy.

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 11.47.46 AM“This piece of legislation was introduced to just broaden the [former legislation], because the bill clarifies the definition of bullying,” Pettey said.

Pettey is currently serving a term on the Kansas Committee of Education. This committee both introduced and sponsored the bill.

The Senate bill proposed and sponsored by the Kansas Committee of Education amended the previous state policy concerning bullying in all school districts in Kansas. These changes went into effect this school year. However, East already has several of the policy’s standards as a part of its existing bullying discipline plan.

In order to broaden the former legislation, the state has provided a detailed definition of what it considers to be bullying. Differing from previous legislation, this policy expands the meaning of bullying as it relates to individuals. It does not just define student to student harm as bullying, but also harm between students, teachers and other staff members.

According to the bill, “Bullying means…harming a student or staff member, whether physically or mentally.” This does not just includes making a student or staff member fearful of being harmed by another. It also refers to damage to a student or staff member’s property as a form of bullying.

This bill also includes a clause addressing cyber bullying. According to the bill, cyber bullying is “bullying by use of any electronic communication device.” This definition goes on to provide examples such as texting, online games and blogs.

This bill has caused some school staff members to question what actually creates reform regarding bullying in schools.

“I want to be optimistic about things, but the truth of the matter is [that] policy alone does not necessarily create change,” Becky Wiseman East social worker, said.

According to Wiseman, state policy changes help set boundaries, but reform in schools is dependent upon how students and staff as a community are willing to support the change.

East has set strict policies against bullying which according to Principal John McKinney, is a matter of ethical standards.

“I don’t need the legislation to put an end to bullying,” McKinney said. “I would do it because it’s the right thing to do. The district would do it because it’s the right thing to do, but having legislation support our actions…is appreciated, and I will take full advantage of it.”

This bill has changed the way in which schools will be required to address bullying on a daily basis. Schools now have to adhere to the new state definition of bullying and handle violations to the policy as they would a violation to any other state law.

“If a school district [were to] be audited and if their policies were looked at, they [would] have to have a revised policy for bullying that would cover [the elements of the bill]” said senator Pettey.

Although the bill does not deal with the specifics of disciplinary action for incidents of bullying, it addresses how the policy should be implemented in each of the schools within the state.

The bill dictates that the Board of Education must utilize parents, school staff and the school site councils. At East, this type of representation, according to McKinney, is not necessary because the criteria for the policy is already being met and has already been working for years.

“The new legislation that went into effect it supplements what East has already been doing,” McKinney said. “East’s policy on bullying already meets and in some ways exceeds what the legislation requires.”

East seniors Morgan Twibell and Danya Issawi, who are planning to address bullying in their marketing DECA project, are appreciative of this new legislation. Both view bullying as a relevant issue at East and consider the new definition of bullying in this policy to be helpful in dealing with this issue.

In particular they appreciate the expanded definition which includes the types of individuals that can be victims of bullying. The state recognition of a more broad type of bullying they think, will facilitate a good relationship between students and members of the school staff.

“With our assembly we are hoping to include staff because they set an example for students at schools.” Issawi said. “If they’re involved with the anti bullying campaign and if the bill implements anti bullying laws, then… that can be beneficial to students because the staff won’t bully [the students] and also students will be comfortable with going to the staff with their problems.”

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