The Richmond Register

March 20, 2013

Madison Middle urges Senate to pass anti-bullying awareness bill

Only a two-day window to get it done

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND —

With only two business days remaining before the current legislative session ends, Madison Middle School teachers, students and administrators are urging the state Senate to “take actions against bullying and join us in this fight,” said Asst. Principal Scott Anderson.

House Bill 35, initiated by MMS, is an anti-bullying awareness bill that would designate October as Anti-Bullying Month in Kentucky and make purple and yellow — Madison Middle’s school colors — the colors of the campaign’s official commemoration ribbon.

HB 35 passed in the House 99-0 after MMS students testified in front of the House committee in January, but it has yet to be called to the Senate floor.

The Senate must take action March 25 or 26, “and students have not lost hope,” Anderson said.

“My students have called and emailed our senators and we requested members of our community and others around the state do the same over the next week,” said MMS teacher Brandi Smith.

Earlier this month, students also met with Repr. Rita Smart (D-Richmond) and Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea) and handed out purple and yellow ribbons to visitors and the Governor’s staff in Frankfort.

The school’s chorus and student leadership team also performed songs on the House floor.

“We understand that officially making October anti-bullying month and creating purple and yellow as the official colors will not stop bullying,” Anderson said. “However, such an action would allow everyone to focus our ideas and provide for us a way to garner support, much like the color pink does for breast cancer awareness.”

Rep. Smart visited MMS in January to announce the bill would be considered in Frankfort. Smart had pre-filed the bill last year after she was contacted by Anderson.

She said during the last legislative session, the attempt to “put some legislation into action” stalled in a committee.

HB 336, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Lousiville), would have required schools to create a code of conduct to ban bullying and harassment based on a student’s learning disabilities, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill failed to clear the House Education Committee last year by two votes. All Republicans voted against the bill, except for the two who passed.

“(HB 35) will create an awareness of the problem of bullying, and I think it’s very important we keep it before legislators and before our state — that’s the purpose of this bill,” Smart said in January. “It’s an ongoing problem that needs to be faced head on.”

Smart said one of her daughters was bullied in middle school more than 20 years ago.

Seventh-grader Bailee Vanover said bullying still exists in her school, “but now that we have done all this, I think people are starting to get the point to stop and that we shouldn’t do that anymore.”

Bailee said she hopes Madison Middle will be a “role-model school” to motivate other schools to take the anti-bullying pledge.

“I think students should not be afraid to come to school. I think they should come to school with no worries at all,” she said. “School should be a safe place for learning and making new friends — not to be afraid.”

Bailee told the House committee in February that one of the biggest steps students can take “is to tell an adult and take a stand against it, like we are doing today.”

Students’ efforts to push anti-bullying awareness to the forefront began last year when Anderson started to research national Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, which is recognized in October.

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

The color purple is associated with domestic violence awareness whereas yellow is associated with suicide, Anderson said. “Bullying can be very violent and many students commit suicide due to being bullied, we thought the two colors naturally went together.”

The students began a week-long campaign to launch the new 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.

A Richmond fire truck lifted Anderson and a Register reporter almost 100 feet in the air to snap photos of the event, which exemplified the students’ on-going effort to combat bullying by standing against it together.

But anti-bullying efforts at MMS didn’t just start in October, it was already a part of the school’s culture.

Students have been involved in letter-writing campaigns, they’ve created posters, signed pledges, worn wrist bands and spent weeks working with teacher Tonya Anderson to make hundreds of purple and yellow ribbons.

Teachers nominate students who show school pride and stand up for others. Around five to six students are rewarded every week with snacks or extra free time “to thank them for standing against bullying,” Anderson said.

Even if HB 35 fails to pass the Senate, educators at Madison Middle will continue to make this legislative process a learning experience for students, he said.

They plan to continue working with Smart and find other schools to join them in the effort.

Anderson said students are talking about establishing a club and they want to work with Eastern Kentucky University students to create television ads and anti-bullying videos.

“Maybe if more of us would join together and say ‘stop bullying,’ people will listen,” Anderson said.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@

richmondregister.com

or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.