After Son's Death, Mom Works Toward Anti-Bullying Law

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Nicholas Kelo of Rittman, near Barberton, won’t be headed off to ninth grade this year. And his mom, Jacqueline Kelo, is devastated.

KELO: “He was my best friend. I’m a single mom, it’s been him and I for the last 11 years, and I lost more than my son, I lost my best friend. He was an amazingly gifted kid.”

Nicholas Kelo died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in February when he was just 13 years old.

KELO: “And we’re fairly certain that it is directly related to the bullying that had been going on in the school repeatedly.”

Jacqueline Kelo is dealing with that fairly recent tragedy by pushing for stricter policies on bullying in school. After Nicholas died, Kelo started doing research – learning that six kids in the Rittman schools had committed suicide in the last five years. A little over an hour north of Rittman, the Mentor school district has gotten national attention because of the deaths of five students in two and a half years and the lawsuits that have resulted. Kelo says she was confronted with the reality that a 2007 state law on bullying doesn’t require districts to have anti-bullying policies in place. So Kelo started doing research and writing her own bill, basing it on some things that are already working in different districts around the state.

KELO: “Some school systems have phenomenal programs. What I’d like to do with this state law it would be mandatory to have an online reporting system. And then it becomes instantaneous. It’s reported, it’s documented, it’s logged online, faculty and staff have access to it.”

Kelo then brought her 40-page proposal to the Statehouse and shopped it around to lawmakers. One who agreed with her was Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo. Fedor says she thinks there are too many districts that have put off creating anti-bullying policies, so lawmakers should step in.

FEDOR: “I think that they’re not dealing with the reality and the reality that the last couple of years families and children across the state of Ohio have been addressing this issue to the point that some of them have taken their lives. And the way that I’m viewing it, we have weak and inconsistent policies in place.”

State lawmakers have mostly focused on cyberbullying in recent months, but Fedor plans to sponsor legislation to require districts to report bullying and create anti-bullying policies that would affect both harassment online and in person – on the bus, on the playground, and in the classroom. And those districts which don’t would be penalized with cuts in their state funding. But the head of the Ohio School Boards Association says while it’s a worthwhile cause, this isn’t the best solution. Damon Asbury says there have been several proposals over the last years directed at specific serious concerns, such as dating violence and childhood obesity. But he says a one-size-fits-all mandate isn’t the right way to deal with any of them.

ASBURY: “All of these are generated for good reason. But the response is to have everyone do the same thing. And I think districts do differ and the nature of problems do differ from district to district, and so the response, I guess the generic order is that there be a policy. The specifics should be up to the local district to decide how best to implement it.”

And Asbury says it’s hard to add this training to all the other training that teachers and administrators are required to get without adding more training time, which costs money. Kelo says in her work with the Ohio Attorney General in identifying districts that don’t have anti-bullying policies, she says she’s been told of grant opportunities for districts to get funding to help. And Kelo says getting at the bullying problem now is important, because she says it’s not only because the bullies of today could be the criminals of tomorrow, but because the victims could be anyone’s kids.

KELO: “It’s not the kid that you think is going to get picked on any more. It’s any kid out there. It’s not about race. It’s not about religion. It’s not about any of those things any more. It’s – it’s so much harder now.”

Fedor says she’s hoping her proposed law will address the issues involved in the tragic death of Nicholas Kelo, and that of Jessica Logan. The 18 year old senior at Sycamore High School near Cincinnati hanged herself in July 2008 after months of taunting over a nude photo of her that was forwarded to hundreds of kids. Her family has also been working on legislation dealing with harassment through sexting.

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