LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- For some students, back to school means back to bullying.
Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, said it's important every student feels welcome and safe.
Gill, a former Bethel School District superintendent, said there's already anti-bullying programs in place in the state of Oregon, but there's still work that needs to be done.
The Oregon Department of Education formed the Advisory Committee on Safe and Effective Schools for All Students last spring. The committee is made up of parents, students, teachers, lawmakers and advocates.
The committee provided policy recommendations just in time for students to go back to school.
Gill said there's already laws on the books that help faculty members and teachers address bullying, but these recommendations go beyond that.
Part of the effort is to involve students all over the state by asking them to share ideas about their schools and how they can improve the overall atmosphere.
Gill said the student group will look at the results and provide recommendations to the Board of Education, state legislators and the governor.
He said at the end of the day, students hold the power to make schools more welcoming.
"The way we formalize it at the educator level when we're always stepping in and solving these problems for them doesn't prepare them to be able to solve these problems on their own both in school and once they're in the workplace as well," Gill said.
He also said the recommendations included better data to help pinpoint which students are being impacted by certain policies and encouraging early identification and intervention systems to help students before they experience problems.
Oregon communities are becoming more diverse, and Gill said schools need to work to embrace that.
He said more than one third of students in Oregon are people of color and about 9 percent identify as gay or lesbian.
One of the ideas behind the state's anti-bullying programs is to help students and teachers see the value in diversity, according to Gill.
Grandmother Jan Savelich said she will have younger kids heading off to school in a few years and suggested ways to look for more acceptance in schools.
"Teaching our kids to love one another and to be kind in spite of our differences and maybe learn to love people because of our differences too," Savelich said.
"School is the one place when we're all together, and we need to learn to respect one another and value what each person brings to the school," Gill said.
In regards to bullying fellow students online, Gill said just because an incident doesn't happen within the walls of the school, it doesn't mean there won't be consequences.
He said cyberbullying is one reason the Department of Education formed the committee that focuses on making schools safer for all students.
Savelich said one reason she thinks cyberbullying is so prevalent is because kids have the opportunity to hide behind a computer screen.
"Kids don't really have to be responsible as much for what they say other kids and how they say it, so I think that's a big deal," Savelich said.
Mother Heather Matheny suggests involving your kids more in activities to limit their screen time.
"Parents need to pay attention to who their kids hang out with," Matheny said. "I think if your kids have a lot of activities, like sports or maybe reading groups or different activities through the school, I think that helps a lot."
If bullying is a concern for your child or student, you can anonymously report any concerns to the Safe Oregon tipline. There's options to call or text the tipline, email, report a tip online or via the SafeOregon mobile app.
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