Legislative Column for the Week of Feb. 23, 2015

It is with great sadness that I must begin this week’s report by extending my deepest condolences to the family of State Auditor Tom Schweich, who passed away on Thursday, Feb. 26. It’s heart-wrenching to see such a talented and self-less individual’s promising future cut short. He was an honorable public servant who dedicated himself to bettering our state and the lives of its citizens. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. The State of Missouri has suffered a great loss. 

Recent Incident Highlights Need for
Stronger Anti-Bullying Policies

Shown above, Sen. Silvey speaks with A+ students from Maplewood Community College who visited the Capitol this week.

On Monday morning, Feb. 23, Blake Kitchen, a 12-year-old autistic boy, was savagely beaten in the school cafeteria at Liberty Middle School by a fellow student. His injuries included a broken jaw, a fractured skull and possible permanent hearing loss. Blake was hospitalized for treatment. Citizens, parents and legislators were justifiably disturbed by the incident.

That alarm quickly turned to anger, though, as it was reported that Blake’s grandfather previously sent a certified letter to the principal notifying him of the ongoing bullying of Blake and asking the school to take action. It appears not enough was done, resulting in a young boy being so brutally attacked, he may suffer life-long injuries.

The school turning a blind eye to the warnings of Blake’s parents and family, and failing to discipline a student with a history of violence toward other classmates, is perhaps the most appalling aspect of the reports. I have spoken with the superintendent and realize there is always more to a story than what hits the news. However, if an investigation shows these allegations are correct, then the administrator failed to do his job, and the school, through its inaction, condoned an environment where bullying is tolerated. In that case, the school and the principal failed Blake, and that is unacceptable.

As a member of the community, and as a parent, I want to know how and why something like this was allowed to happen. As a legislator, I’m furious that the school appears to have dismissed the warnings of Blake’s family. That would be a massive failure on the part of the school, which is charged with ensuring the safety of the students’ they educate. That is not a duty that should be taken lightly, yet in this case, it seems to have been given little regard.

Unfortunately, this incident is not unique. Bullying is, and continues to be, an endemic problem in this country and state. Every day, children are subjected to horrific treatment by their peers, whether physically, mentally or emotionally. And, in recent years, we’ve learned more about the harmful, long-lasting effects harassment can have on students. Bullying was once regarded as an inevitable part of childhood, but it is finally being viewed with the gravity it warrants.

Lawmakers often discuss their responsibility to provide a quality education to students. This is an admirable and worthy goal that I’ve long been honored to work towards. However, education is about more than funding. We also have an obligation to guarantee our public schools are safe, nurturing environments where no student fears physical violence or harassment.

Fellow concerned colleagues and I have already begun working on legislation to require strict anti-bullying policies in Missouri schools, and to ensure districts are taking solid steps to end these incidents, listen to the warnings of parents and create an environment that is conducive to learning without students fearing for their own safety. I’m eager to begin work on this pressing problem, which is all the more urgent in light of this week’s event.  

As always, I am here to serve the 17th District. I welcome any discussion, questions or concerns regarding Missouri government. Please feel free to contact me at the State Capitol: (573) 751-5282, ryan.silvey@senate.mo.gov, or by writing to Sen. Ryan Silvey, Missouri State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol Ave., Room 331A, Jefferson City, MO 65101.