Are Local Schools Doing Enough To Stop Bullying?

In Survey, One Third Of Students Say They’ve Been Bullied At School

Mercer students can report bullying or harassment via the anonymous online reporting system S.T.O.P., which can be found at kycss.org/stop or by calling the tip line 866-393-6659.

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

rmoore@harrodsburgherald.com

Ask most people why they live in Mercer County, and they’ll say it’s a safe area to raise their kids.

But for a surprising number of kids, Mercer County doesn’t seem all that safe. Not at school, where they spend most of their days, and not even at home. About a third of local students who completed the 2018  KIP survey, a biannual statewide study of Kentucky’s students, say they have been bullied at school. And a majority of local students say their schools’ reporting methods are ineffective.

In Mercer County schools, 38-percent of 6th graders, 31-percent of 8th graders, 21.8-percent of 10th graders and 20.9-percent of seniors said they had been bullied on school property in 2018. In the same survey, 19.7-percent of 6th graders, 17.9-percent of 8th graders, 15-percent of 10th graders and 14.2-percent of seniors reported they had been bullied online.

The number of students who felt there was an effective way to report bullying or harassment declined the longer they had been enrolled in the school system. While 69.1-percent of 6th graders said their school had an effective method to report bullying or harassment, only 55-percent of 8th graders, 51-percent of 10th graders and 43.5-percent of seniors said yes to the same question.

At Burgin Independent Schools, 29-percent of 6th graders, 32-percent of 8th graders, 37-percent of 10th graders and 19-percent of seniors said they had been bullied on school grounds, while 14-percent of 6th graders, 5-percent of 8th graders, 20-percent of 10th graders and 4-percent said they have been bullied online.

Burgin students seemed to share with Mercer students the same lack of faith in the effectiveness of reporting bullying to school officials. At Burgin, 52-percent of 6th graders, 60-percent of 8th graders, 55-percent of 10th graders and 39-percent of seniors felt the reporting methods were not effective.

It should be noted that while the statistics may be alarming, they are not all that different from KIP survey results from across the region or for surveys of the nation as a whole.

Bullying not only hinders learning, numerous studies have shown a link between being involved in bullying incidents—as a victim or a bully—and suicidal ideation and associated behaviors, including self-harming.

Among Mercer students, 12.2-percent of 6th graders, 21.8-percent of 8th graders, 17.9-percent of 10th graders and 17.4-percent of seniors said they had harmed themselves on purpose. In the same questionnaire, 6.3-percent of 6th graders, 12.1-percent of 8th graders, 12.4-percent of 10th graders and 8-percent of seniors said they had made a plan to attempt suicide during the previous 12 months.

At Burgin, only 3-percent of 6th graders said they had harmed themselves on purpose, while 20-percent of 8th graders, 24-percent of 10th graders and 27-percent of seniors said they had. While no 6th graders admitted to making a plan to attempt suicide, 22-percent of 10th graders, 14-percent of 10th graders and 8-percent of seniors said they had.

At both school districts, administrators say they have taken steps to deal with the issues.

Esther Hayslett, director of pupil personnel and safe schools at Mercer, said they have hired two social workers and increased the counseling staff. Hayslett said they have shifted workloads for counselors to increase their time with students. She said they were working with staff on recognizing trauma and other areas where students may be struggling.

“School counselors are developing social-emotional lessons that are being shared throughout the district  working to educated students on bullying, how to report it, and other topics related to social and emotional health that she mentioned are occurring throughout the district,” Hayslett said.

In February, African-American students at Mercer County Senior High School received a racially insulting message on their cellphones via Airdrop. At a conference after the incident, some parents complained that school administrators did not seem to respond unless parents took the issues to the public via social media.

“We used the incident as an opportunity to make families aware of the policies and procedures we have in place to address bullying and harassment,” Hayslett said.

She said Mercer students can report bullying or harassment via the anonymous online reporting system S.T.O.P at kycss.org/stop or by calling the tip line at 866-393-6659.

Hayslett stressed the need for students and parents to report them when it happens.

“If the school’s not meeting their satisfaction, they can call the district office,” Hayslett said. “They’ve got to let us know.”

Burgin Principal Chris LeMonds said they’ve built dealing with bullying into their scheduled advising times. LeMonds said one area they are working with students on is defining bullying.

“Some students and parents think that name calling during a one-on-one dispute is bullying,” LeMonds said. “What we want parents and students to understand is that bullying is a repeated behavior that does not stop. If it happens only once, that isn’t necessarily bullying.”

He said bullying has the potential to be worse at larger school districts. Burgin’s small size—and the one-to-one relationship between students and faculty—makes it easier to handle bullying when it arises, LeMonds said.

“Because we’re so small, we’re able to do something about it before it escalates,” he said.

LeMonds said he wished the questions in the KIP survey stressed that bullying was repeated behavior, not something said in the heat of the moment.

“It is a good tool but I wish that the questions were worded in a way that shows that bullying is a repeated behavior,” LeMonds said.

The full KIP Survey can be found at kipsurvey.com.

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