A few months have passed since Knights Against Bullying brought big numbers to a Kaneland School District 302 board meeting, with members telling district officials that something had to be done about the issue.
The group pushed to bring the discussion to a school board meeting and has been active in working toward solutions. Last month, there was its first presentation in Kaneville. Group member Leigh Ann Reusche is participating as a community member on a bullying task force at Kaneland, and she said the committee met Dec. 19.
It’s just the beginning, and she said changes won’t be immediate. She said she is the only community member on the group, which is made up of school personnel and administrators. But she said district officials have said, in the future, the district intends to have focus groups with community members and perhaps teacher and student groups.
All of that can be considered progress. In August, a Facebook page for Knights Against Bullying was launched, and members talked of addressing the school board early in the school year. When district officials became aware of the group, they scheduled a forum that was one hour before the school board meeting at Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove. There, they explained their policies and invited those in attendance to share their comments, and they did so at the premeeting presentation and the public comment portion of the school board meeting. Many, when they spoke, identified themselves as members of Knights Against Bullying.
The group’s Facebook page urges visitors to “join Knights Against Bullying in standing up against bullying at Kaneland,” and continues, “We need to join together and be a united force to let the administration and school board know that they MUST take bullying seriously.” District officials said they take it seriously, and they made changes to the district’s handbook in the spring in regard to the issue. But those who spoke at the meeting described details of ongoing situations that continued for long periods of time and claimed that officials weren’t being responsive enough. Members spoke at future meetings, and, ultimately, the subject made its way onto a school board agenda.
Ultimately, Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler expressed the district’s desire to “create a partnership” in finding solutions to the bullying issues. Reusche, in answers provided in an email, said there has been communication, especially at the middle school level, and that officials are “definitely open to ideas and dialogue.”
“Do I see a big change that has measurably affected the school? No, but I also don’t expect that to happen overnight,” she wrote.
Reusche said solutions will not come from choosing a packaged bullying program, but instead by “taking a look at the many things that make up the climate and culture of our schools, along with a set of policies and interventions and coming up with a comprehensive plan.”
But she said another key will be creating a community connection. She said the group has been working with local Lions groups about a Lions International program called Quest, which is about more than bullying. She points out that the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois has a program called aMAZE, which looks at bullying prevention. She said members of Knights Against Bullying have attended programs that focus on bullying prevention and awareness.
The mere existence of the group also has helped, in that members have talked to others who are in similar situations.
“We’ve been able to connect parents with other parents to help problem-solve how to best handle a specific situation,” Reusche said. “Sometimes, all it takes is someone to listen. Other times, it may take meeting with the school or even the local law enforcement.”
As far as specifically addressing bullying in Kaneland schools, Reusche said that is something that must be done by officials. But she said Knights Against Bullying will continue to do its part.
“KAB has no control and limited input about what steps the district chooses to take, or not,” Reusche wrote. “We hope to bring awareness to the bullying situation in our schools (which I think we have), build community connections with our schools (which we are in the process of doing) and look back at the end of the year and say we’ve positively effected change for our children. Several of our KAB members have said we want to put the ‘community’ in Community School District 302.”
• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.