KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Jared Benjamin of Pasco, Wa., was 13 years old when he took his own life in 1998, after being bullied. His parents could not imagine that anyone would want to hurt him or how depressed Jared was feeling from being teased and taunted at school. Fists flew between Jared and another boy and administrators labeled it a fight. Both boys were suspended for three days. In the months that followed, Jared became more reclusive and sad. His parents were discussing getting him counseling the day he took a gun from his father’s hunting gear and shot himself.
Megan Meier of Dardenne was almost 14 when she hanged herself in her Dardenne Prairie, Mo. home in 2007. A year later, an investigation linked her death to cyber-bullying.
In 2010, at least nine suicides were directly linked to bullying and a government report points out that it could be the reason behind the depression that led many more children to take their lives, but proving that has been challenging.
The National Crime Prevention Council calls bullying “a tidal wave of epidemic proportions”. Forty-four states have responded with legislation requiring public school districts to have a policy against bullying as well as prevention programs. Each state’s law varies as do the programs in the public schools. (Click here to see various state laws ) Experts say not all programs are equal and parents should ask for research that their school’s program works.
We wanted to compare the bully problem in local districts, but found that each district, and sometimes each school within a district, addresses bullying differently. Some schools do not even track it as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) does not currently require bully numbers. While we could not create a statistical spreadsheet with clear data, we have grouped the district responses below.
Kansas City Public Schools
Kansas City Pubic Schools break out bullying incidents from discipline reports. In 2009, they logged a total of 56 bullying incidents. Males were responsible for 40 of them while 16 incidents were attributed to females. In 2010, the District logged 56 bullying incidents again for the year. In 2010, females were linked to 26 of the incidents. In 2011, the District has recorded 42 incidents with 34 committed by males an increase of 25 percent, so far.
Kansas City Kansas Public Schools
David Smith, Chief of Staff and Public Relations Officer of KCK Schools did not provide any numbers on bullying.
“The state of Kansas does not have a category for bullying in the way that they track discipline incidents. They do have a category for harassment, into which bullying would fall, but that also covers other kinds of infractions, such as sexual harassment,” said Smith. Smith provided a link for more information.
North Kansas City Public Schools
“Last year NKC Schools switched to a new student information system (SIS) called PowerSchool,” Mary Jo Burton, Director of Communications explained. Although the new data was not transferred into their new data base, Burton did report number she says includes all bullying and harassment. Burton wanted parents to understand they collect the data for their own use as The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) does not track this level of detail. DESE only requires schools to reports incidents that result in Out of School Suspensions (OSS) and Expulsions, and the reason for each.
“We in NKC Schools keep it for what it tells us about current trends in student behaviors,” Burton explained. “That, in turn, guides our school administrators on what interventions or preventive strategies need to be implemented to manage those behaviors. For example, if there are multiple incidents in one location, like an elementary lunch room, administrators can respond with increased supervision or classroom instruction about proper behavior in group settings.”
NKC uses a program in their elementary schools called Positive Behavior Support ( PBS) . Their schools have won awards for improvement in behavior on buses and in school. All students can now anonymously “text a tip” for help at the first sign of bully behavior.
2009-2010 Harassment/Bullying Breakdown NKC Schools
A total of 272 incidents were reported in 2009-10 which the District says is 1.4 percent of the population.
187 reported as “sexual harassment”
(29 high / 36 middle / 122 elementary)
78 reported as harassment based on “race, color or national origin”
(6 high / 45 middle / 27 elementary)
7 reported based on “disability”
(1 high / 5 middle / 1 elementary)
Burton says the NKC District makes use of a national program with a proven success record to battle bullying. She provided additional links to the National Association of School Psychologists and UMKC.
Liberty Public Schools
The District Public Relations Officer reported Liberty High School logged seven bully incidents in 2009-10 school year but offered no other statistics saying
it is currently difficult to statistically code.
“The challenge that we run into is that each individual school in the district codes their discipline in different ways, which makes statistics impossible to accurately provide,” said Dallas Ackerman, Director of Communications and Marketing.
He included a link to the DESE website with discipline incidents dating back to 2006 for Liberty Public Schools. “This would provide a consistent story from district to district. But this, again, doesn’t capture ‘bullying/harassment’ incidents,” added Ackerman. “As we learn about any form of bullying incidents, we will follow board policy and take each incident very seriously and then deal with the issues directly”.
Hickman Mills Public Schools
Public Information Coordinator John Baccala said the District logged 55 behavior referrals coded as bullying for the first semester through an internal system called Infinite Campus.
“Keep in mind, there is a variance in definition from building to building,” added Baccala. “An incident may be classified as 'bullying' in one building and something else in another. You'll notice four of our schools had no reports of ‘bullying.’”
Baccala says bullying is tough to quantify and a bigger issue among educators is cyber-bullying. “At least when students are within . At least when students are within the four walls of the school, we can somewhat control the situation. That's not the case when they're on their home computers, cell phones, iPads, etc.”
Hickman Mills recently implemented the Olweus Bully Prevention Program which is internationally recognized.
First Semester (2010-11) Bullying:
Santa Fe 1
Hickman Mills Jr. 4
Star Academy 0
Independence Public Schools
Public Information Officer Nancy Lewis says their District has won attention for their “ Stomp Out Bullying” program. She gives much of the credit to older students who said they wanted to be behind the message to younger students to not bully one another.
National statistics show that bullying peaks in middle school and the Independence numbers would validate that trend. In the 2009-10,school year the District logged 40 incidents of bullying of which 31 attributed to seventh graders and most of them from Clifford H. Nowlin Middle School. ( See chart )
School year to date statistics show 23 incidents of bullying in Independence Public Schools. Pioneer Ridge Middle School and Williams Chrisman High School have each logged eight incidents respectively. Clifford H. Nowlin Middle School has one bullying incident involved a sixth grader so far this year. ( See chart )
Lee’s Summit Public Schools
Janice Phelan is Communications Executive Director for Lee’s Summit Public Schools. She says bullying can take on many forms, and districts are not required to track specific numbers and therefore has not quantified bullying. The “R-7 School District does track harassment through a specific incident code that is reported to the state,” said Phelan who added that this is not a true reflection of bullying as not all reports of harassment are considered bullying. She provided totals for 2008 through the current year for harassment.
Incidents categorized as harassment totaled nine in elementary school, 136 in middle school and 168 in high school for the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Incidents categorized as sexual harassment totaled 14 in elementary, 47 in middle school and 72 in high school for the same two and a half school years.
“We do not specifically track gender among incidents but the majority of the students being disciplined at all grade levels are male,” added Phelan.
Phelan says Lee's Summit R-7 prohibits all forms of hazing, bullying and student intimidation. Students participating in or encouraging this type of conduct are disciplined in accordance with Board of Education policies. Students are also strongly encouraged to report incidents of hazing or bullying to school staff.
The district addresses bullying and cyber-bullying through guidance curriculum and technology lessons and has partners with Lee's Summit CARES , a community group, and with our DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers.
Olathe Kansas Public Schools
Media Specialist Ann Kohn says the District currently has no mechanism for tracking bullying, but they plan to put something in place and begin tracking next school year. She did offer ten pages of comprehensive bullying materials available to the public on the dynamics of bullying and prevention tips as well as the District policy .
Fort Osage Public Schools
Stephanie Smith is Director of Public Relations for the Fort Osage Public School District. She says the District closely monitors bullying and provided statistics from 2008. ( See Chart ) The District totaled 53 incidents of bullying in 2008, 52 in 2009, 72 in 2010 and 33 year
to date. Fort Osage breaks their incidents down into three categories: bullying, intimidation and harassment.
Smith also provided links to two Board Policies ( 1 and 2 ) and one regulation governing bullying across the District.
Platte County Public Schools
The core data coordinator at Platte County R-3 says they do not break out bullying in their discipline reports because it is not required by the state. The District did not feel comfortable trying to estimate the bullying or harassment cases.
The District did add that it takes all incidences and reports of bullying/harassment very seriously. The board policy JFCF defines bullying/harassment and indicates consequences for both students and staff.
"While we would love to be able to report that our pirates, young and older, are never involved in bullying activities," writes Tina Zubeck, School-Community Communications Coordinator, "we know that not to be true. However, we have taken extra measures to give students options in reporting these types of issues."
Zubeck added that many times crimes or serious incidents go unreported because students don't want to be identified with "ratting" out someone. "It is difficult to convince young people to tell the facts on serious or potentially serious events due to the fear of retaliation or embarrassment."
Text a tip
"Platte County R-3 Schools has set up a system to allow students to text message anonymous tips to help students share information without ridicule. The tip is sent to a main server that is not associated with the school district or any police agency. The Internet based system routes messages through a server that encrypts cell phone numbers before they get back to the school, making tips virtually impossible to track. This new system is called 'Text a Tip'. We have held assemblies and sent information our to students and parents about this new program."
"We have also added a 'bullying' button to each of our building's website for parents and students to report bullying/harassment issues via the internet. You may view this at plattecountyschooldistrict.com and navigate to any of the building pages."
"We are hopeful that by providing these anonymous means to report incidents, our students will feel more comfortable and safe in doing so," said Zubeck.
Blue Valley Kansas Public Schools
Kristi McNerlin, Director of Communication offered this link to the District's policy on bullying.
McNerlin says BV is proactively engaged in bullying prevention and intervention efforts at every level in the organization. The Board of Education has developed and adopted policies that align with Kansas statute and specifically address expectations for student and adult behaviors. Additionally, Board policy requires that each school develop and annually review a plan includes staff and student training as well as the implementation of building activities designed to prevent and intervene in bullying and harassment.
Each year in every school the principal and leadership team review and revise the Student Well-Being Plan (SWB) based upon the needs of the students and using resources and programs that have shown promise. The SWB Plan includes professional development for staff, training for students, small and large group assemblies and activities, feedback loops and parent education and involvement. The plans, designed to be preventive, address the areas of bullying and cyber bullying, suicide and substance abuse as well as the development of culturally responsive schools.
McNerlin writes that while there are numerous programs and initiatives across all buildings, there are several resources coordinated at the district level and accessed by all school communities. Professional development modules created by district teams and delivered by district and building staff collaboratively in two-hour increments give educators the opportunity to engage in learning more about topics such as bullying prevention, the impact of culture and religion on learning and interpersonal relations, awareness of gender expectations, and socioeconomic stress. Every building plans for two hours of professional development each semester.
The district also coordinates collaboration with community resources and provides training for core teams from each school for major implementations. In the past core teams have learned techniques based on the Olweus Bullying Prevention program model. Additionally, Rachel's Challenge , a program designed to inspire and empower students in creating safe and civil schools has been used in all Blue Valley secondary schools. Rachel was the first student killed in the Columbine shootings. Recently, leadership teams from each school participated in "BullySafe USA Train The Trainer Curriculum." The focus of the training is to give school teams enhanced information to prevent and intervene when bullying behaviors occur and to support every student including targets and witnesses.
"Social Thinking Program
" is currently being introduced or further implemented in the district's elementary schools. McNerlins writes that Social Thinking is a prosocial approach that gives students the skills to understand the impact of their behaviors on others in their environment and the problem-solving skills to resolve or avoid conflict. There are multiple district faculty members who have become certified to train the Social Thinking program.
Blue Valley partners with MOCSA and SafeHome to provide resources and education to staff, students and families regarding safe and healthy relationships.
As for bullying statistics, BV does not keep them. McNerlin explained, "While aggregate data is not kept at the district level, every building has a reporting protocol for bullying. This protocol includes a way for students and staff to report bullying behaviors to the proper adults in the building. Each report is followed up on and addressed."
Park Hill Public Schools
Nicole Kirby, Director of Communications provided numerous (CHARTS) detailing the bully trend data for their middle schools. The data is tracked for Plaza, Congress, Lakeview, and the national average. It is important to note that the national averages were generated from the Olweus data reports that we received. Kirby points out that Olweus provided charts, but not the data tables. The District guesstimated the actual number from the graph they provided. Kirby says the District is confident that the national averages they we use in their comparisons are accurate within the margins of error (2 -3 percent).
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