Policy in question as Missouri ranks significantly worse than Kansas in study on bullying

A recent report released by WalletHub analyzed 47 states and the District of Columbia and ranked them to determine which had the largest problem with bullying. The study emphasized the sweeping and long-term detrimental effects bullying can have on a victim’s life as well as the negative cost to society that bullying produces.

The study evaluated the states using three primary criteria: bullying prevalence, bullying impact and treatment, and anti-bullying laws.

Within the state rankings, the stark contrast between Missouri, which ranked third, and Kansas, which ranked fourth, is particularly notable. Focusing in on these neighboring states with widely disparate rankings, it can be difficult to locate the reasons behind the disparity at first glance.

Bullying is defined similarly in both states.  

“‘Bullying is defined as any intentional gesture or any intentional written, verbal, electronic or physical act or threat that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for a student or staff member that a reasonable person, under the circumstances, knows or should know will have the effect of,” according to Kansas.

“[Bullying is] …intimidation, unwanted aggressive behavior, or harassment that is repetitive or is substantially likely to be repeated and causes a reasonable student to fear for his or her physical safety or property; substantially interferes with the educational performance, opportunities, or benefits of any student without exception; or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school,” according to Missouri.

While the basic definitions are the same, the primary difference is that Kansas has subclauses and statues in their law, which further outline both the definition of and what constitutes bullying. Kansas’s laws are more expansive and detailed than those enacted by Missouri.

Additionally, while above are the basic laws on bullying for each state, Missouri has nine others relating to bullying and Kansas has eighteen.

The number of bullying laws is not necessarily an indication that a state’s anti-bullying system is more robust or effective. For example, the state that ranked first in the study, Louisiana, has 30 anti-bullying laws.

There is another discernible divergence between Kansas and Missouri in regards to their approach to anti-bullying measures. Both states have anti-bullying laws, but Kansas belongs to a block of 42 states that also mandates anti-bullying policies and has issues ‘model policies’ while Missouri is among the eight states that do not.

Both states mandate that every school district is required to have anti-bullying policies, but, while Kansas gives a model policy to help guide school districts and encourage uniformity between school districts, Missouri does not. Thus, Missouri schools policies are more individualized in all aspects, while Kansas schools have more uniform components from district to district generally.

Missouri education experts, speaking to the Kansas City Star, fault the states anti-bullying laws’ vagueness and lack of detail for being the reason behind the state’s worrisome ranking. They said the laws currently in place are vague and only require school districts to have anti-bullying policies but do not provide guidance on what these policies should contain or other such details.

This relative decentralization of school districts anti-bullying policies may contribute to Missouri’s bullying problem, but the study itself makes no connection between the two.

Colorado also belongs to the group of eight states that administer policies differently and it ranked 44 in bullying. However, Colorado diverges significantly from Missouri in laws covering bullying. Colorado has close to 50 anti-bullying laws, reinforcing the logic that the scope and substance of laws is the most significant element in anti-bullying.

Photo courtesy of Walden.

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