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Some may call it a right of passage, just a part of growing up. But in Frankfort, lawmakers are mulling over a bill that seeks to prevent bullying in schools and local administrators are backing the bill.
"In many aspects, our society views certain forms of bullying as a right of passage," said Melissa Long, assistant principal at Taylor County Elementary School. "However, we, now more than ever, are beginning to realize the long-term effects of bullying as it has been brought to public light in recent years."
Passed by the House 96-0 last Tuesday, the bill is now before the Senate. Sponsored by Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, the bill would "require school districts to have plans, policies and procedures dealing with measures for assisting students who are engaging in disruptive and disorderly behavior, including harassment, intimidation, or bullying of another student."
This is the fourth anti-bullying measure that Cherry has tried to have passed into law in recent years.
Like it or not, bullying occurs at local schools.
"I would have to say that I feel bullying is a common problem," Long said. "At our school, we try to address this issue head on. Our school counselor, Mrs. [Colleen] Noe, travels to classrooms teaching lessons on how to react if you are being bullied, as well as why it is important not to bully others. Students are educated on the term 'harassment' and its definition each year from kindergarten to fifth grade."
Bullying is less common at Taylor County Middle School, according to assistant principal Tony Jewell.
"Bullying is rare at our school. We start with the regular discipline code like harassment, then if it continues the kid will end up at A-school. We sent two there this year because of bullying."
Long said bullying seems to occur equally among male and female students.
"I think bullying occurs among male groups as well as female," Long said. "While boys are more physical, girls tend to be more mischievous in their modes of bullying."
While schools already have policies in place to deal with bullying, administrators say they would welcome the bill, if passed.
"I think a bill protecting our students would be worth exploring," said Charles Higdon Jr., Taylor County High principal.
However, the effort to curb bullying, Higdon said, must start at home.
"I feel educating our youth about bullying starts at home. My wife and I have the responsibility ourselves at home. We must teach our children what bullying is, the effects and the consequences of such actions."
Today, much of the bullying that occurs is verbal or written, Higdon said. A good amount is cyberbullying - involving the use of the Internet.
"The majority of bullying is not happening in the hallways. A lot of it is cyber."
Though school administrators don't physically see this type of bullying, they often see the results.
"Even though this does not take place at school, it can negatively affect the child in the classroom," Noe said. "Students often bring the emotional stress this creates to school, which in turn can lead to discipline problems and present a barrier to the educational process."
Cyberbullying is part of the definition of bullying in House Bill 91. In a press release, Cherry stated that eight of 30 states that have anti-school bullying laws list cyberbullying as a form of bullying.
But what is considered bullying isn't always clear cut, according to Chris Kidwell, Campbellsville Middle principal.
"The hard part about addressing bullying is that it is not always a clear-cut situation, and the definition of bullying is very broad. What may be considered bullying to one person may not be to another."
Higdon agreed, saying that one student may simply be kidding around with another, though the other student may not see it that way.
"While fighting is a form of bullying, there are many other less obvious ways to be bullied," Long said. "My definition of bullying is repeatedly being made to feel uncomfortable or violated by another person."
When bullying does happen, though, school officials are ready.
"We already have an anti-bullying policy that was adopted last year by our SBDM council," Kidwell said.
The CMS policy defines bullying as "the use of aggression, intimidation and/or cruelty with the deliberate intent of hurting another person verbally, physically or emotionally."
Punishment for bullying at all schools ranges from a verbal reprimand for a first offense to in-school suspension or expulsion for several violations.
But schools aren't simply reacting to the problem.
At Campbellsville Elementary School, officials are taking proactive steps to prevent bullying, as do other schools.
CES staff members teach lessons on preventing bullying in classrooms and students are expected to follow rules imparted from those lessons. Students also practice anti-bullying procedures periodically.
Punishment usually has a preventive effect. Students who are reprimanded for bullying, Higdon said, usually do not commit the offense a second time.
"We treat bullying as a serious offense and will file criminal charges if the bullying persists after our interventions."
Long said simply punishing the bully is not enough.
"As you interact with the 'victims' and the 'aggressors,' it is vital that we get to the root of what has taken place. I never dismiss a child who comes to me feeling violated. I always investigate each situation."
While local schools are already dealing with the problem, a state law would only reinforce statewide efforts, Long said.
"In my opinion, House Bill 91 is a move in the right direction to overcome a common problem. Bullying has always existed among children. However, House Bill 91 is requiring a plan of action for this common problem."
- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.