While school safety is a year-round concern, the issue is receiving extra attention across the state this week from educators and students alike.
That’s because this time has been set aside as “Kentucky Safe Schools Week,” which this year is focusing on a problem that is as old as schools themselves: bullying.
According to the Attorney General’s office, nearly half of our children say they have been a victim of intimidating behavior at least once, and during the 2011-12 school year, it was the root cause of more than 7,300 cases that were serious enough to require corporal punishment, out-of-school suspension or expulsion. This issue has taken on added urgency in today’s electronic age, where rumors and threats can travel at the speed of light, often anonymously and far beyond school grounds.
The Kentucky Center for School Safety, which the General Assembly created in 1998, is encouraging those in our schools to be what it calls “part of the cure” in stopping bullying. The website it has set up – http://www.kycss.org/ssw.php – offers students, teachers and administrators a wealth of information to raise awareness of the problem.
Overall, of course, the vast majority of students are no problem at all when it comes to discipline. The latest annual school safety report, which the Dept. of Education released last month, found that just five percent faced serious punishment last year. Still, that totaled more than 35,000 students.
There were more than 1,100 assaults and 278 reports of deadly weapons, according to the report. Males made up the overwhelming majority of these cases, and when looking at the age, ninth grade led the pack. In fact, that grade alone had significantly more students involved than the junior and senior classes combined.
Disturbingly, there were also as many reports of deadly weapons found in kindergarten through third grade as there were in the fourth and fifth grades. Altogether, there were 55 of these types of cases in our elementary schools last year.
When it comes to drugs and alcohol, ninth grade was again the class leader. This time, though, juniors and seniors had more combined cases, but not by much. There were also 125 cases in our elementary schools.
In addition to documenting the number of cases, the Dept. of Education report also highlights where the problems were most likely to occur. Nearly three-fourths took place in the classroom last year, not surprisingly, and the hallway and stairs were second. The cafeteria was third, followed by the bus and then the gym.
The need to attend to students’ non-academic needs is getting more notice in Washington. In the latest round for “Race to the Top” dollars – which will provide $400 million in competitive grants to school districts across the country – bonus points will be given to those schools that work with outside organizations to help students with their social, emotional or behavioral issues.
Here in Kentucky, steps have already been taken to help curb such things as bullying and using technology to harass others, but this is an area where we cannot afford to let our guard down. The more we can help students focus on learning rather than fearing who may be around the corner, the better off we all will be.