Alleged Bullying of 5-Year-Old Raises Questions about Current Law

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BOONVILLE - The national rate of bullying is still at an all time high and proves to be especially detrimental in smaller communities, according to a report by Business Insider. Although Missouri has a statute requiring all school districts in the state have an anti-bullying policy, those policies vary across the board.

5-year-old Jaylah McKee said she was punched in the face in early February while getting off the school bus on her way home from Hannah Cole Primary. This marked the third incident this school year that Mckee was bullied, according to her mother.

"It's not just a problem in the big cities. This is a problem that is going on everywhere," Robin McKee said.

Although all three incidents were reported, McKee said the school and the bus company ruled the first two incidents as accidents.

"They never said anything to what they believe to be an accident or how many times an accident can happen before they do something about it," McKee said.

According to the Missouri bullying law, there is a definition of what bullying is, but there isn't a definition given for accidents. Even if an accident fits the guidelines of the definition of bullying, the disciplinary actions are still up to the individual district itself. 

Mark Ficken, superintendent of Boonville R-1 School District, said the district takes every reported case of bullying seriously regardless of age. 

"It's the 'B' word. Everybody uses it and throws it around. That doesn't necessarily mean every case is bullying," Ficken said."The definition of bullying is not a one-time instance. It's a repetitive thing. Until there is a pattern of behavior of someone purposefully going after another person and singling them out with intent to do harm, whether it be physical or mental harm, then we have some bullying going on."

Other than the general definition of accidents, who makes the disciplinary decisions is also up to each individual district. In McKee's case, because of the designated relationship between the district, bus company and police, she said no one seemed to be able to help.

McKee said she talked to the principal the same morning as the third incided.

"There really wasn't anything she could do, which was pretty much the answer that I got from everybody."

In smaller communities like Boonville, many parents, like McKee, do not have the option of driving their children to school.

"Her school is not in walking distance, it's three exits down the highway which is not feasible for me to walk, so I rely solely on the buses to ensure she get back and forth from school safely," McKee said.

Ficken said he doesn't think the state's anti-bullying policy needs to be defined more specifically.

"We don't need a statute or law to tell us how to handle bullying," he said. "We need to get to the root of the problem, have open lines of communication with parents with kids and make sure we say this is never ok in this school district."

The disciplinary action for bullying is left up to the school district. According to McKee and the bus company, the solution in Jaylah's case was to separate the two students on the bus, having one sit in the front and one sit in the back. This is a common solution for similar instances in the Boonville district.

Ficken said the district currently provides outlets for children Jaylah's age.

"At the primary level and elementary, we spend a lot of time through the counseling program, educating kids of what could be perceived as bullying. What is bullying, what to look for, the signs," Ficken said.

McKee said she hopes to educate more children and parents in the area about the effects of bullying.