New bullying law to impact educators

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Story by Bailey Bohannan, Staff writer

Kentucky Senate Bill 228 was passed into law on April 9 and gives a statewide definition for bullying in the K-12 school system.

The law defines bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated” and is effective at school, in the classroom, any school transportation, school-sponsored event or any place that disrupts the education process of the student.

Karen McCuiston, Director of the Resource Center at Murray State, advocates against bullying and enthusiastically makes efforts to help schools and students at Murray State who are majoring in education be better prepared to address and prevent bullying.

McCuiston said she thinks  that although the proposed bill will most likely leave loopholes in the definition of bullying, any movement to prevent bullying and protect students is one worth fighting for.

“I feel that any light shined on the topic of bullying at school, in our community and our homes is a good thing,” McCuiston said. “The new definition of bullying is a good place to start a conversation at school and to work on our comprehensive bullying prevention program, which lies under our safe school plan in each school district and on every campus.”

McCuiston said she travels around the state talking to schools and helps them set up programs to help students report bullying of any sort in a comfortable atmosphere.

She said she also talks to education classes each semester at Murray State to educate future teachers on how to approach and prevent bullying in their classrooms.

Sarah Stellhorn, sophomore from St. Louis, is majoring in education. She said she wants to teach at the junior high and high school level, and bullying to any extent will not be tolerated in her classroom.

Stellhorn doesn’t know in which state she will teach after she graduates, but she said the new law in Kentucky would help all teachers have a constant definition of bullying, though no single definition will be perfect.

“A strict definition of bullying could put us at risk of ignoring bullying if it does fit the exact definition of bullying,” Stellhorn said. “This would be something to take into consideration when creating the definition.”

Deborah Bell, assistant professor in English said this law will hopefully include passive-aggressive bullying and make teachers more aware of other forms of bullying that sometimes go unnoticed but still cut to the core. She said she would define bullying as any action that hurts or pains someone, whether it is physically, verbally or emotionally.

“Right now, schools do not have a common definition, which leaves it open to interpretation,” Bell said. “Bullying is more than actions that may threaten the student’s  physical safety.”

Sue Sroda, chairwoman of the English and Philosophy Department, said she supports the definition because it directly acknowledges all forms of bullying and requires schools to do something about it. Even though the bill is targeted at K-12, Murray State can still be involved and make a difference.

“I think the wording of the proposed bill is good because it makes very clear that bullying in any form is not acceptable,” Sroda said.

“We need to do what we can to do to make sure that pre-service teachers get the training and tools to be able to recognize and deal with bullying behavior once they become teacher,” she said.