Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Catastrophic Bullying Compliance issues in Kentucky – School Districts have no knowledge of existing Kentucky laws – The Kentucky Department of Education is to blame

The Kentucky Equality Federation is appalled at the lack of administrative education provided by the Kentucky Department of Education on bullying-related topics.

In Clay, Grayson, Jefferson, Kenton, Lincoln, Pulaski, Whitley, and several other counties, we have received alarming reports from guidance counselors, principals, and other school district staff that they have received no briefings or information about complying with years-old Kentucky regulations regarding bullying in public schools. This lack of information is leading to a lack of enforcement of laws that are already in effect.

"These laws were written to protect students," said Kentucky Equality Federation President Joshua Koch. "We hear cries for more legislation from the public, but we know there are laws in effect already. This is an insult to the visionary legislators who have already passed excellent laws to protect Kentucky's children.

“When we confront these local school districts about their lack of enforcement, we are finding an epidemic of knowledge," Koch said. "These districts don't even know Kentucky has these laws. We have laws and continuing education requirements for a reason. They are there to allow and encourage administrative communication, but that only works when the Department of Education understands the law and communicates it to the 120 counties and their school districts. The Kentucky Department of Education should have ensured all school districts in Kentucky enforced existing school bullying laws when the legislation was passed and especially after the first suicide.

"It does no good to lobby for new school bullying legislation when principals and guidance counselors are not ever aware of existing laws. Frankfort can pass new laws indefinitely, but without enforcement and education regarding Kentucky’s existing laws, adding additional laws to the books if futile. Our law has received an A++ rating by a national bullying watchdog group, something we made public and the Family Foundation of Kentucky used to stop new legislation this year. The problem is not a lack of applicable laws. The fundamental crisis is that no one in the education administration in Kentucky seems to know laws exist to confront school bullying. This is a tragedy that is costing lives and damage, and it has already been addressed in detail by the legislature. There is simply no excuse for this negligence. Under existing Kentucky law, all school bullying must be submitted in writing to the principal who must then forward the complaints to the County Attorney for investigation. One County Attorney in Southern Kentucky informed us that so many new laws are passed each year, they struggle to keep-up."

"In recent years, bullying in schools has gotten out of control," stated Attorney Jillian Hall, Kentucky Equality Foundation’s Legal Director. "The legislature has done their part by enacting laws to protect the students, now the Department of Education must accept responsibility and educate teachers and staff on how to put these laws into practice and protect the victims of this behavior. Kentucky Equality Federation is ready to take legal action to ensure this happens. Most of the parents involved want the school districts and the Commonwealth to be sued for damages. However, Kentucky Equality Federation would rather have the cooperation of the Kentucky Department of Education in educating school districts in all 120 Kentucky counties."

Kentucky Equality Federation requests assistance from the Kentucky Department of Education in informing school districts in the Commonwealth about the applicable sections of KRS, especially sections 158 and 525, and any other statutory or administrative laws applicable to anti-bullying reporting and enforcement. The Department of Education has a responsibility to make school districts aware of their duties and authority to confront this problem. Kentucky Equality Federation has started this process in most Eastern, Northern, Southern, Southeastern, and Western Kentucky school districts. Clay and Grayson counties are perhaps the worst; one superintendent closed a meeting when a parent wanted to discuss school bulling after the superintendent received a warning from Kentucky Equality Federation, another completely refused to cooperate though the principals wanted the information and a school bullying impact presentation from Kentucky Equality Federation.

"It is irresponsible of Kentucky's Department of Education to not empower their administrators and instructors with the knowledge and processes affiliated with in-school harassment or bullying,” stated Kentucky Equality Federation Chairman of the Board Brandon Combs. “This same information should also be extended to parents as out-of-school bullying, or harassment, is a criminal offense in the commonwealth of Kentucky. What's worse is the administrative regulation regarding harassment in school has been on the books and available for enforcement for years. This is not an issue where the Department of Education has lacked sufficient time to pass along the information to its personnel. Only when administrators, teachers, and parents are armed with the knowledge and empowered to act will the issue of school bullying in Kentucky finally be put to rest."

This has been an ongoing issue. Kentucky Equality Federation’s former president, Jordan Palmer, publicly warned three school districts about their non-compliance with the law in March (http://community.kyequality.org/2012/03/kentucky-equality-federation-warns.html).

Kentucky Equality Federation founder and board member Jordan Palmer, still on the mend, stated: "Kentucky Equality Federation reiterates that it seeks the assistance of the Department of Education and Kentucky Secretary of Education Joseph U. Meyer in making presentations to these schools and educating the student body for the coming school year. Though additional legislation may be needed to protect youth and prevent suicides, until we discover and resolve the government communications breakdown with existing legislation, we cannot endorse new legislation that could fall by the wayside as "The Golden Rule Act of 1998" has."

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