Bullying is an issue that has impacted every community, school, and classroom in our state. Since 2012, Governor Branstad has made the issue a priority for his administration. During Governor Branstad’s Condition of the State Address – he outlined a proposed Bully Free Act of 2014. In February, Senate Democrats proposed their own revisions to the state’s anti-bullying law.
I have received numerous questions about both proposals and the impact each would have on the state’s current anti-bullying efforts. Follow me after the jump for a detailed look at what is being proposed and what is needed on this issue.
Current Iowa Law
In 2007, Iowa took a great leap forward in this work with the passage of the Anti-Bullying & Anti-Harassment Act of 2007 (also known as the Iowa Safe Schools Law). This law has several key components:
1. Every school district in Iowa including accredited non-public schools had to have an anti-bullying policy in place.
2. A definition of bullying that includes cyberbullying and the necessary language for administrators to address issues when they happen off school grounds.
3. 17 traits or characteristics required by law to have but schools can expand upon are political party preference, political beliefs, physical or mental ability/disability, national origin, creed, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, ancestry, socioeconomic status, familial status, sex, color, age, and marital status.
4. This policy must be made public. This is usually done via student handbooks or through the school counselor office.
5. School districts must report their number of incidents to the Iowa Department of Education which makes those numbers public.
The 2007 law does miss on three areas – training for school staff, resources for programming, and actual consequences for when a school fails to comply. Under current law, nearly 100 public school districts fail to report any incidents at all to the state and this is often ignored due to any real teeth.
Governor Branstad’s Bully Free Act of 2014
Governor Branstad’s bill makes three changes.
1. Parental notification which requires schools to inform parents of the the target of the bullying behavior as well the student who has the bullying behavior. Parents do need to be a part of the process but this could be tricky with student privacy issues.
2. Mandatory training of all licensed education staff through a webinar. Under the Governor’s original bill this mandatory training includes bullying prevention, suicide prevention, and ethics for educators with an appropriation of $25,000 for a video to cover it all. Not the most effective training.
3. Inclusion of the words “social networking sites” under the definition of what electronic bullying means. This is frankly unnecessary as current code covers any incident that impacts the learning environment (student doesn’t come to class, grades lower, student doesn’t want to participate in extra curricular).
I have been told the Governor’s bill is dead for this legislative session. I know things can change quickly but the focus is now turning to the Senate Democrats’ bill.
Senate Democrats’ Bullying Bill
The Senate Democrats do take things to a different level with their bill. Senate Democrats create a more systematic approach to the issue of bullying.
1. Creation of a new Office of Support & Analysis for Safe Schools that helps develop mandatory training for all school staff and provides technical assistance to schools.
2. Creation of a grant program to give resources to schools. The Office of Support & Analysis for Safe Schools would administer this grant.
3. Inclusion of social networking sites and applications under electronic bullying.
4. Schools would need to use their data points from the Iowa Youth Survey and incident data for grant dollars. This would be an #epicwin for bullying prevention advocates in the state.
5. The Senate Democrats are appropriating $1 million to this effort vs $25,000 in the Governor’s bill.
There are some downsides to the Senate Democrats’ bill – mostly in the language and what the role of this new Office would be. I love the concept of a new Office dedicated to the issue and resources behind it for schools – but the language does need a bit more work in the bill. I will say that Senator Hogg who is the sponsor of the Senate Dems bill has been willing to listen to what is needed and changes in the language. I am impressed with the Senate Democrats willingness to work on changes.
The Senate Democrats bill has another subcommittee hearing scheduled tomorrow (March 10th) in room 22 at noon if anyone is interested in attending.
Long Story Short…
The Governor’s Office made a misstep in not listening to the speakers at the Governors Bullying Prevention Summit. Those speakers made recommendations on increased mental health coverage, resources for districts, and using data to guide programs. While the Senate Democrats’ bill is a giant leap forward – we need to hit pause on both pieces of legislation and think this through a bit more in terms of how it would work. Funding, training, and dedicated staff at the Iowa Department of Education are high up on the bullying prevention “wish list” but we want to have the right language in place so this only enhances all the great work that has happened in the state.
There is progress being made on this issue, and it is important to remember we cannot simply legislate it away. Changing a school’s climate takes approximately six to seven years. The current law will be celebrating its seventh anniversary and has done a lot of good for Iowa students.
Just for fun…Several House Republican Amendments
Thought I’d end this post with the always entertaining and head scratching antics of some Iowa House Republican ideas on bullying prevention. These are all amendments to the Governor’s Bullying Bill. No additional commentary needed from my end. Enjoy!
This amendment gives a “license to bully.” A license to bully means you can say/do whatever you like to another student as long as you have a “religious” or “political” belief to your bullying. This amendment added the words “philosophical belief”.
This amendment allows school districts to post the a sign saying “in God We Trust” in school buildings.
This amendment changes the definition of bullying to basically being sexual assault and/or physical violence.
My “favorite” from Bleeding Heartland’s “Most Clueless Legislator” Rep. Jason Schultz. This amendment stops bullying in the General Assembly. (Have to comment – completely trivializes the issue and makes a mockery of something that has hurt so many families and students. Should be ashamed of himself)