Officials posting anti-bullying message in Fayette County buses, cafeterias

An anti-bullying sign on a Fayette County school bus.
An anti-bullying sign on a Fayette County school bus. Lexington Herald-Leader

Every Fayette County school bus now carries a placard urging students to report cases of bullying anytime they see incidents happening.

The signs, which were placed on buses at the start of school last week, are located at the front of the vehicle near the driver, where they are easily visible inside the bus.

The signs have an illustration of a schoolgirl who has been bullied, along with the words: "Bullying ... Not In Our School." The sign also says "Get Help Here" and lists phone numbers for the Fayette County Division of Law Enforcement and Lexington police.

"The purpose is not to place charges against people, but to encourage reporting," said Chris Townsend, law enforcement director for the Fayette County Public Schools. "If someone does report a case to law enforcement, we will refer it to the counselor in the school it pertains to.

"But if law enforcement intervention is warranted, the school will let us know."

The number for Lexington police was included on the signs because city officers can handle bullying incidents that occur off school property, Townsend said.

The signs are the brainchild of Lexington's Jerry Cerel, a longtime member of the Bluegrass Crimestoppers board of directors. Crimestoppers is footing the bill for putting the signs on the buses.

Cerel said in an interview that Crimestoppers also plans to put similar anti-bullying posters in the cafeteria at every Fayette County public school. The posters should be ready in a few weeks, he said.

Crimestoppers also plans to create a sign with the message in Spanish, he said.

"It's something that needed to be done," Cerel said of the posters. "We really need to get more awareness out in all the schools.

"I've been on the Crimestoppers board for quite a while, and this is something we've been talking about for years."

Cerel said that when he recently approached Townsend about the idea, the schools' security chief quickly got on board.

Bullying has been a problem since the days of the one-room school, but now there are more opportunities for bullying. It can range from bigger students physically pushing younger kids around to abusive messages being sent via social media.

Jan Hatfield, Safe Schools Support Specialist for the Fayette Schools, says it's hard to pinpoint how much bullying occurs in the district because incidents can be reported in many different ways. Some incidents are reported as actual physical assault, while others are reported as simple verbal harassment, she said.

One of the biggest problems in combating bullying, she said, is that kids frequently don't report it to parents or school personnel.

"Often, they don't tell anybody that it's happening," Hatfield said. "But I think by having these posters out there, it's kind of a reminder, right there in your face, to let somebody know."

Students who are reluctant to report incidents can maintain their anonymity by notifying school enforcement officials, she said. Law enforcement could then notify school counselors, she said.

"We're not telling kids to get into the middle of a confrontation, because that might not be safe. But we do want them to report," she said.

Usually, bullying can be resolved by counseling kids who are committing the incidents, Townsend said. Occasionally, however, problems become so serious that they may involve actual violations of law, with formal charges filed.

"It's rare, but it can happen if it becomes a continued pattern of behavior, or it escalates to the point of harassment or actual assault," he said. "Fortunately, most of the time counselors can go in, talk to all the parties and work things out."