Researchers developing model anti-bullying policy for Kansas schools

Fri, 08/16/2013

LAWRENCE — Although Kansas law requires schools to have an anti-bullying policy, schools may struggle to translate this legal obligation into effective policies and practices to prevent and intervene with this pervasive problem. A team of University of Kansas researchers has been awarded a contract to develop a model anti-bullying policy that will help schools across the state develop similar policies, clearly define bullying and implement evidence-based strategies for dealing with bullying-related issues.

Anne Williford, assistant professor of social welfare, is the principal investigator for the project, granted by the Kansas Department of Education. She will collaborate with Patricia Hawley, associate professor of developmental psychology; Todd Little, director of the Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis; Eric Vernberg, professor of clinical child psychology; and Paula Fite, assistant professor of clinical child psychology.

“Essentially what this contract aims to do is create a model antibullying policy that individual schools can then tailor to their unique needs,” Williford said. “We know that schools sometimes struggle to identify, track and address incidents of bullying. Our goal is to create user-friendly resources schools can use to address this problem through providing training for school personnel across the state, creating a web-based resource for school districts and providing ongoing technical assistance for school staff. We’ll also provide schools with recommendations for addressing the all-too-common consequences of bullying, particularly for victims, like social and emotional difficulties that may require further supports to be put in place.”

The researchers are in the process of developing a website that will be available to schools across the state. It will include examples of anti-bullying policies that help define what bullying is, how to recognize its multiple forms such as cyber, relational and physical bullying, and how to address it among students.

The key to the project is beginning with an effective policy, the researchers say. Kansas law requires schools to have a policy that clearly defines bullying, including cyberbullying, and outlines consequences children will face for engaging in such behavior.  Because the law does not require specific language, it allows schools to create policies that fit their district. However, because of this ambiguity, it may leave some schools struggling to generate specific definitions of the problem and appropriate intervention strategies.

“We believe for anti-bullying efforts to be effective, you have to have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy,” Williford said. “It not only protects students but the schools themselves. By clearly defining bullying behaviors that are strictly prohibited and by detailing the consequences children will face, school personnel, parents, students and community members alike will know the district takes this problem seriously and will understand the steps the district will take to address these issues.”

Later this fall the researchers will hold training sessions throughout the state to introduce school personnel to the policy, provide access to materials and the website and to share methods on dealing with bullying that have been proven effective through their research in schools throughout the country. There will be at least 10 training sessions for three to five school district representatives from districts across Kansas.

The Kansas Department of Education is an innovative leader in recognizing that there are inconsistencies in policies across the state and that getting research-based practices in the hands of educators is the most effective way to combat bullying, Williford said. Few states across the country have engaged in this kind of statewide effort to streamline anti-bullying efforts.

“I think this is an exciting opportunity to get research in the hands of educators,” Williford added. “Through a policy level we’re able to articulate many aspects of this complex problem. And we know from experience that policy can drive practice."

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