Burns, school superintendents explore ways to curb bullying

Burns’ roundtable discusses best practices, legislation and local pilot program

EBENSBURG, Feb. 18 – Joined by close to a dozen superintendents and officials from local schools, state Rep. Frank Burns today hosted a roundtable in Ebensburg to discuss his Pennsylvania Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and ways that schools in Cambria County can work to eliminate the dangerous behavior in schools.

“As we continue to work to address bullying in our schools, I knew it was crucial to bring educators together to discuss what works and what tools they need to combat this problem,” said Burns, D-Cambria. “The discussion we had today highlights why we need comprehensive anti-bullying reforms.” 

Burns has been a leader in anti-bullying efforts across the state, and has introduced a package of legislation which seeks to hold parents, school officials and students accountable for bad behavior, and which would build on the success of the Safe2Say anonymous violence and threat reporting program implemented in schools statewide last year to ensure bullying is tracked, investigated and reported in real time.

“Bullying is often underreported and therefore unaddressed in any meaningful way. When it’s not addressed, bullying can escalate quickly from taunts and hurtful online posts to physical assaults and -- in worst cases -- suicide,” Burns said. “If bullying were accurately reported to state officials, it would be a crisis in Pennsylvania.”

Burns noted that the majority of educators gathered today favor meeting again to develop a voluntary, countywide initiative so that bullying is defined and handled the same way for every student in every school across Cambria County.

“This would be an invaluable show of unity across a dozen school districts. We know that changing policy at the state level is difficult, but with the data and experience of an entire county working together to execute my legislative proposals, Cambria County can be the driving force in protecting children across Pennsylvania,” Burns said.

Burns and the educators also discussed an anti-bullying pilot program that the Penn Cambria School District began this school year using software developed by HIBster, a Johnstown-area company. The district presented its experience reporting and tracking bullying more aggressively and how the software has aided that process.

“We’re definitely seeing a culture change, but we have a long way to go,” said Penn Cambria Superintendent William Marshall, who now reviews bullying incident data with district leadership on a monthly basis. 

Marshall added that the increased tracking – with the help of the software – led to school officials repositioning security cameras and reassigning staff to “hot spots” where bullying incidents are more commonly reported.

The pilot program started after Burns held a similar discussion on bullying in 2018 in Upper Yoder Township, after he refined his legislation and helped connect HIBster and Penn Cambria.

“Bullying isn’t an issue that will be solved just through any single piece of legislation or any one program,” Burns said. “We need to be willing to try different things and work together to execute stronger anti-bullying efforts in all our schools.”