BRADENTON -- One out of four students will be bullied by another youth, and children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers, according to national studies.
"They're a very vulnerable population," said Mary Smith, executive director of the Family Network on Disabilities, a local nonprofit that works with Manatee and Sarasota families with children who have disabilities.
The 2014 Family Network on Disabilities annual education conference this weekend will focus on ways to reduce and prevent bullying with events geared toward providing strategies for local leaders. The network will host a community-awareness breakfast Friday and a conference Saturday at the Woodland Community Church on State Road 70 East in Bradenton.
Neither the Sarasota nor Manatee school districts
have comprehensive anti-bullying programs, Smith said. She hopes the 2014 conference will be a starting point to bring in local leaders to begin a conversation and eventually develop a specialized anti-bullying program.
"That's the long-term goal," Smith said.
On Friday morning, Frank Latham, program coordinator for the Youth Leadership Project and Youth Leadership Institute sponsored by the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, will deliver an address at breakfast. Latham worked on an anti-bullying campaign aimed at getting children to stop using the R-word.
Latham said more integration of students with disabilities and a better sense of familiarity is key in helping stop bullying.
"It's much more difficult to bully someone you have a personal relationship with," Latham said.
Saturday's events feature a keynote address and two workshop sessions.
Event pre-registration has been extended, and attendees can also sign up the day of the event as long as spots are open. Cost to attend Friday's breakfast is $20. The Saturday conference is $35 and includes a boxed lunch.
For more information, or to register, visit fndmanasota.org.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.