Two recent incidents of Lake County, Florida students carrying knives to class is prompting school officials to step up efforts to promote the district’s anti-bullying hotline in October – National Bullying Prevention Month.

Fred Jones, a sergeant with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and longtime school resource officer, told Spectrum News both students brought the weapons to school for protection against bullies, but will be charged with a felony for bringing the weapons to school.

In one instance last month, a 10-year-old girl at Minneola Elementary Charter School told police she stashed a kitchen knife inside a stuffed animal she carried in her backpack “for protection.” Days later, a South Lake High School student caught with a knife told police he “carried on a daily basis” to protect against bullies, according to the news site.

“Maybe that is something inside of them that they feel they need to, maybe it is a culture that says 'I need to protect myself, I am looking out for me.' But it is a dangerous one,” said Jones.  “If your kid is having a problem, they don’t feel comfortable coming in, please give the school resource officer or deputy a call. Talk to them, and let us address it.”

Jones pointed to the district’s SpeakOut hotline, coordinated through the Central Florida Crimeline, as one way students can report bullying and remain anonymous. Students can also text “speakout” to 274637 or use the P3 Campus App to make reports, Jones said.

School and sheriff’s officials posted a message about National Bullying Prevention Month on the district’s Facebook page as well to remind families of the consequences of bullying in Lake County schools.

“Many times, bullying is directly related to comments or actions threatening our schools. A threat or even a joke about shooting up the school is not cool. Children will be prosecuted and suspended immediately pending a threat assessment by school administration,” according to the Facebook post.

“Bullying, including cyber-bullying, will not be tolerated in Lake County Schools. Have a talk with your kids and make sure they understand that we have a zero-tolerance concerning threats to our schools and students.”

Crafting a coherent anti-bullying message is an important component of effective moral education that’s not as easy as it seems, according to researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

“This failure to provide a fully developed and broadly coherent moral message was partly due to public school teachers’ reluctance to opine on controversial issues,” Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Content of Their Character”

Often, educators simply avoid “providing serious direction on what was right and what was wrong,” Hunter wrote.

Officials in Lake County Schools clearly understand the important role educators play in keeping kids safe and conveying important messages about character. The SpeakOut hotline is one of several ways educators in the district are going beyond talk to put the message into action.

The SpeakOut website offers more information about the three different ways of reporting bullying through the program, which is tailored to students in elementary, middle and high schools.

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