Schools must be observant of, responsive to bullying

Jon Ackers speaks with (pictured right to left) Woodford County Middle School principal Stephanie Koontz, Woodford County High School social worker Sara Swinford, Woodford County Middle counselor Patti Sebastain, Woodford County High principal Rob Akers and Woodford County Middle counselor Derby Akers about suicide prevention during a meeting at Woodford County Middle School Aug. 23, 2010. Photo by Amy Wallot

Karen McCuiston
Kentucky Center for School Safety

Editor’s note: This article was submitted to Kentucky Teacher in conjunction with Kentucky Safe Schools Week (Oct. 17-23).

News of the suicide of a young high school girl from Massachusetts, Phoebe Prince, this past January broke my heart. After an investigation, it was alleged that repeated physical, verbal and online abuse lead to her death. Phoebe’s torturous treatment brought international attention to the widespread problem of bullying in U.S. schools.

According to the National Survey on School Safety Statistics, one in three students in middle school and high school said they had been bullied in the last school year. This equates to 8.2 million students who are suffering because of bullies at school. These numbers are astounding, and something has to be done. In Phoebe’s case, nine felony charges were filed against her classmates, and many accusations have been made about the school, teachers and its leadership. Even more disturbing is that Phoebe is just one of a group of students who have recently committed a new term coined “bullycide.”

Many schools across Kentucky have taken a long hard look at their bullying policies and procedures. A new awareness about what types of behaviors will not be tolerated and clear definitions of harassment and bullying has been developed. In addition, new legislation was passed and signed into law this year that addresses suicides that result from the bullying. House Bill 51 requires every public middle and high school administrator to disseminate suicide prevention awareness information to students. Senate Bill 65 requires all middle and high school teachers, counselors and principals have two hours of suicide prevention training each school year.

The Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS) wants to step up to this challenge and encourage every school across Kentucky to participate in Kentucky Safe Schools Week Oct. 17-23. A new pledge will be launched this year entitled R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This pledge reinforces the idea that respect of one’s self and others will help eliminate problems surrounding a variety of school safety issues. Teachers and students are encouraged to recite the pledge below.

To keep Kentucky schools safe places in which to learn and work, I pledge to:

  • Realize that violent actions have real consequences and do not solve any problems.
  • Encourage others and myself to be responsible for the Internet sites I search as well as social network communications.
  • Stand up for anyone who is being bullied and never bully anyone myself.
  • Prevent bullying by reporting any suspicious behavior.
  • Explore my options by talking with a trusted adult when I feel sad or alone.
  • Control my texting and cell phone use, by not sending/sharing anything that is inappropriate.
  • Take a stand and be respectful to adults, students and myself.

Every teacher and school across Kentucky is urged to participate in Kentucky Safe Schools Week. Lesson plans, interactive links and other online pledges, videos, color pages and more will be available to download for classroom use and awareness.

KCSS also encourages teachers, principals and district staff to attend the 16th Annual Safe and Healthy Schools and Students Conference Nov. 15-16 in Louisville.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said at the first federal school bullying summit in August that “a school where children don’t feel safe is a school where children struggle to learn. It is a school where kids drop out, tune out and get depressed. Not just violence but bullying, verbal harassment, substance abuse, cyber-bullying and disruptive classrooms all interfere with a student’s ability to learn. The fact is that no school can be a great school until it is a safe school first.” As educators, parents and stakeholders in the well-being of our students, it is our responsibility to provide a positive school climate as a foundation to start academic achievement.

Karen McCuiston,, (800) 805-4277