The Richmond Register

January 14, 2014

Madison Middle students return to Frankfort

HB 40 to promote bullying awareness, not regulation

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Madison Middle School students will return to Frankfort on Thursday to lobby a second time for the passage of House Bill 40, an anti-bullying awareness bill initiated by the school and championed by state Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond.

HB40 would designate October as Anti-Bullying Month in Kentucky and make purple and yellow ― Madison Middle’s school colors ― the colors of the awareness campaign’s official commemoration ribbon.

Students spent the past year calling senators and writing letters to remind them that the bill is intended only to promote awareness and not enact penalties, said MMS assistant principal Scott Anderson.

The measure, known as HB35 during last year’s 30-day legislative session, passed in the House 99-0 after MMS students testified before a House committee, he said. However, it did not pass the Senate.

Anderson said several senators told him they were hesitant to support HB35 because of pressures from lobbyists to attach regulatory conditions to the bill. But that was never the bill’s intention, he said.

 Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, has now pledged his support for HB40, Anderson said.

“Bullying takes place everywhere, but we want to focus the message, unify people and show that through working together, there are ways to solve problems,” Anderson added.

MMS gifted and talented students handpicked for their leadership skills, will testify before the House State Government Committee on Thursday. But this year, students will hand over a petition with more than 500 signatures collected from MMS students and staff.

Teacher David Bonn, who is leading the effort, will be circulating the petition at other schools and sports events between now and Thursday.

“These signatures represent the coordination of many students at Madison Middle School to eliminate the emotional and physical brutality that undermines a student’s educational opportunities,” the petition states.

Anderson said part of his job as assistant principal is to handle disciplinary issues, and he has noticed a “drastic decrease” in the number of students reported for bullying others over the past year.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said, pointing out that there may be students afraid to report bullies or that some acts may take the form of cyberbullying, which is not easy for school staff to uncover.

School resource officer Josh Hale spoke with parents last year on the dangers of cyberbullying and conducts similar presentations with students and community members, Anderson said.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “Just as the act of wearing pink does not cure breast cancer, wearing purple and yellow will not stop bullying. But this is a way for us to stand together and show support for those who are bullied.”

The assistant principal was approached by three students last year who wanted to support those in their school who had been bullied by writing letters of encouragement and slipping them into their lockers.

While students slipping letters into other students’ lockers could be problematic, Anderson said, he began to do some research on how the school could focus its effort in a different way.

Anderson concluded that there was not a ribbon color designation for anti-bullying like other causes.

The color purple is associated with domestic violence awareness whereas yellow is associated with suicide, and both may be associated with bullying, Anderson said.

In October 2012, students began a week-long campaign to launch their legislative initiative. At the end of the week, some 400 students and staff spelled out the words “stop bullying” on the front lawn of the school.

If the bill does not pass the Senate this year, Madison Middle students and staff will continue to lobby state legislators, Anderson said. The next step is to ask churches and other community organizations to stand behind the bill.

“We’ve got to show students that, just because they say ‘no,’ you don’t stop doing what’s right,” he said.

Stop by Madison Middle School, 101 Summit St., to sign the petition before Thursday.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.