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Bullying: State law aims at improving system, but many local districts already in compliance

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 11:45 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 6:57 a.m. CDT
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(Mary Beth Nolan)
Children participate in a "Happy Dance" on Friday at the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media
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(Mary Beth Nolan)
Kaneland Superintendant Jeff Schuler speaks Friday as part of a Kindness Campaign event at the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media
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(Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media)
Jeff Bean offers advice on positive changes as part of a Kindness Campaign event Friday at the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media
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(Mary Beth Nolan)
Meena Gosain, 9, of Geneva participates in a "Happy Dance" Friday at the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media

Renee Dee has worked to try to produce smiles and acts of kindness in the Kaneland area. She is the founder of PEAK for Kids, the host of the Kindness Campaign and has helped spread a growing message in the community – Be nice. Be happy.

But she said it’s important to remember that the movement’s roots stem from an incident in which charges were filed against students in a case involving a classmate. The Sugar Grove resident said it is vital that progress continue to be made so such incidents never happen again.

Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed legislation amending the school code on bullying prevention, but local school districts say they already are doing much of what the action requires. They already have policies on bullying. They collect data. They have definitions of bullying and a system to deal with such incidents, they said.

In Kaneland School District 302, Superintendent Jeff Schuler said his first impression is that “it is a reminder of things that we are doing but need to continue to do.” In Batavia School District 101, Chief Academic Officer Brad Newkirk said the district has taken “a proactive approach to bullying and bullying prevention” – addressing the bully, the bullied and the bystander.

In St. Charles School District 303, Superintendent Don Schlomann said the legislation can be helpful on a state level, as officials will be able to collect data to see where issues are. The rules do not tell districts how to review their policies, but it is mandatory that they have a policy.

• • •

The bill’s signing was announced on July 26. In a news release, Quinn stated that the bill would help protect students from bullying inside and outside of classrooms.

“Intimidation and fear have no place in Illinois’ schools,” Quinn said in the release. “Every student in Illinois deserves to go to a school where they feel comfortable and safe. This new law is for all students who have been bullied but didn’t know where to turn. Our schools will now set comprehensive anti-bullying standards for all districts so we can help students succeed inside and outside of the classroom.”

The law calls for school districts to develop and implement anti-bullying policies that must define bullying and have procedures for the reporting of bullying, parental notification and the investigation of reports of bullying and actions that may be taken to address it, the release states.

Local districts previously have taken such action. And there have been attempts to raise awareness. In Geneva School District 304, there were anti-bullying videos created by choir members at Geneva Middle School South and North. In Kaneland, Kindness in Kaneland Week was celebrated.

In St. Charles, Schlomann said the legislation can provide some more clarity. He said the district works to identify bullying, and “we take it seriously and try to investigate.” Sometimes, he said, it can be a misunderstanding, but often, it is bullying. And there also is the matter of bullying in cyberspace, “and we are charged also to deal with that.”

In Batavia, Newkirk said that there are efforts made to be sure procedures are in place and to be sure the district is in compliance with the new law. He talked of the district’s PBIS system, which stands for positive behavior intervention system. And he said the district is aware that bullying instances do occur.

Linda Chapa-LaVia, D-Aurora, was one of the bill’s House sponsors. She said that if school districts already are in compliance with the law, “that’s great.” She said it was put into place because not all school districts have a bully policy in place with a restorative antidote.

• • •

Despite such efforts, there is controversy when it comes to bullying. District 303 saw two lawsuits alleging bullying filed in 2013 and 2014.

In Kaneland, the Kindness Campaign movement gained strength last year, but in 2012, a group called Knights Against Bullying packed a school board meeting and demanded change after saying bullying allegations had gone unresolved and that situations were continuing.

Soon after the Knights Against Bullying meeting, a task force on bullying was formed in the Kaneland district, including one community member – Leigh Ann Reusche, who was with Knights Against Bullying. She is the director of the Kindness Campaign.

But the task force no longer is in existence. Dee said that is disappointing, and a community voice is needed. Schuler said the future of the task force was not clear. He said such work has “really shifted to our internal groups that are working to implement that.”

“We would reconvene the task force if a need existed,” Schuler said, adding that the task force “wasn’t a response necessarily to community feedback.”

Know more

To view anti-bullying videos at Geneva Middle School North and South, visit www.geneva304.org/Anti-Bullying-Videos.aspx and www.geneva304.org/Anti-BullyingVideo-June2014.aspx.

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