Anti-bullying policy enforcement: Experts say school 'climate' plays crucial role

Anti-bullying policy in Mid-Missouri...

ABC 17 News is taking a deeper look at anti-bullying policies at several local schools after one teen takes his own life. 

Kenneth Suttner was a senior at Glasgow High School when he killed himself in December. A coroner's inquest suggested the district was negligent in the teen's death. The district disputes that claim but they're still making some policy changes, including creating a committee made up of two students from each grade to address student safety concerns. 

According to the Missouri School Boards Association, which Glasgow is not a part of, climate plays a crucial role in terms of implementing policy. 

"School safety really comes down to the climate and whether the kids feel comfortable approaching adults and saying 'I'm not comfortable, I saw something I'm not comfortable with or I don't feel safe,'" Susan Goldammer, staff attorney at the Missouri School Boards Association told ABC 17 News. 

Under state law, every district was required to adopt an anti-bullying policy by September 2007. Revisions to Missouri's code now mean some bully incidents fall under the definition of criminal harassment and need to be reported to police. 

"School employees are trained in education they're not trained in criminal law so the difficulty is identifying common school behaviors...and deciding when we need to pick up the phone and call police," Goldammer said. 

Goldammer said it's up to the district--as well as parents and students--to enforce anti-bullying policy. 

"If there are concerns in a community about things that happen at school, then the first stop needs to be made at the school district themselves...because all of that change has to come from their local school district," Goldammer explained. 

Columbia Public Schools approved its new bullying policy last month. A JCPS spokeswoman said they won't be making any sweeping changes to their existing policy, as they're confident in their procedure. 

Meanwhile, an attorney for the Glasgow School District told ABC 17 News the district has a form students or teachers can fill out to report bullying. He said Suttner never filled out that form, nor did anyone notice his bullying. 

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