Editorial: Schools need to combat bullying with culture of kindness, respect
The motorcycle escort that brought 13-year-old Megan Kuntz to her first day of classes this week was symbolically powerful.
Kuntz rode on the back of one of the three-dozen motorcycles that roared up to Canton Middle School in Streamwood in an awesome show of support for the girl who was bullied so much last school year that her mother pulled her out of the final two weeks of classes. The bikers' gesture told her and anyone watching "We've got your back."
Now other students, parents, school administrators must show the same resolve to ensure Megan is never bullied again.
In fact, the start of a new school year marks a good time for school officials across the suburbs to increase their vigilance with staff members and to make it clear to students and parents that bullying is not acceptable.
"It's just a bunch of bikers getting together about something that's got to stop," said Paul Muttini, one of Megan's escorts.
Stopbullying.gov says between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. Many also have been cyberbullied. Most bullying -- the most common types are verbal and social bullying -- happens in middle school.
There is growing awareness of the problem, which may lead some to believe bullying is increasing. However, while studies suggest rates of bullying may be declining, it remains a prevalent and serious problem in today's schools, according to the website.
The bullying was so bad for Megan last year that as a seventh-grader she had to eat lunch in a school office to avoid classmates who threw her food in the trash. Some students hurled anti-gay epithets at her because she was the only girl on her youth football team.
Megan's mother, Jill Kuntz, said she worked with Canton administrators last year to address the bullying and met with parents of the worst offenders but that did little to end the harassment. Officials in Elgin Area School District U-46 stressed the district does not tolerate bullying and said they hope to continue working with Megan's family to address the situation.
Solutions to bullying are not simple. Approaches that show the most promise confront the problem from many angles and involve the entire school community -- students, families, administrators, teachers, and others -- to create a culture of respect, according to <URL destination="http://www.stopbullying.gov">Stopbullying.gov.
</URL>Studies also have shown adults, including parents, can help by talking to their children about bullying, modeling kindness and respect, and encouraging them to get help when they are involved in bullying or know others who need help.
Ending bullying must be on every school's to-do list this year.