- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - By the time she was 8, Morgan Guess was on antidepressants and her doctor recommended she stop going to school because of the bullying she was experiencing.

The Paducah student had her hair pulled and her neck pinched by a classmate. But that wasn’t the worst part: She was isolated from her friends and “felt all alone.”

This story could have ended badly. But Morgan took her mother’s advice to “be part of the solution,” and started an anti-bullying foundation. Thursday, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Morgan, now 11, to a 22-member task force assigned to study bullying and how to stop it.

“Kids who are afraid do not learn,” Morgan said. “I am happy to tell you I am no longer being bullied and I no longer have to take medicine. My mom and dad were my advocates. And because of them I know now that I have a voice and I can use it for good.”

The Kentucky legislature passed anti-bullying legislation in 2008 that made it a crime to bully someone online and required school districts to have anti-bullying policies. But Beshear said he appointed the task force because bullying is still a problem in Kentucky schools. The Kentucky Department of Education reported 15,520 incidents of bullying during the 2013 school year, or one incident every four minutes of the school day.

“While we have taken some steps in the past to address it, we still don’t have as comprehensive an approach as we should have to make a big difference for our kids,” Beshear said, adding that bullying is a “significant contributing factor to many teen suicides and suicide attempts.”

In 2013, 7.7 percent of Kentucky high school students reported they had attempted suicide at least once during the past year, according to a biannual survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a decrease from 10.9 percent in 2011. The national average is 8 percent.

Susan Guess, Morgan’s mother, said Morgan did not tell her about the bullying. By the time she discovered it, she said Morgan was “already down the road of really suffering emotionally.”

“We really felt isolated,” Guess said. “There’s so much fear around the subject that I felt like people just wanted us to stop talking about it. … You have to push through the fear. You have to be your child’s advocate.”

The anti-bullying emphasis comes as Beshear is entering his last full year as Kentucky’s governor. He cannot run for re-election because of term limits. The bullying task force’s report is due to Beshear by Nov. 15, 2015, about two months before he leaves office.

State lawmakers return to work in January. But Beshear said he has directed the task force to begin its work immediately in the hopes they might discover some issues lawmakers can address before they adjourn for the year in March.

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