As the Iowa Legislative Session comes to a close (or maybe not…) – one of Governor Branstad's top priorities is struggling to stay alive. Bullying prevention efforts have gained bipartisan support over the last few years as leaders from both parties have heard the demands of their constituents for more work to be done protecting Iowa's kids. Let's take a look at this year's bullying bill and what happened to a policy item that every major education organization and several other leaders in school issues supported.
Over the past few years a form of the bully bill has come up. Specifically this year's bully bill included the following:
- Parental Involvement: Parents would be notified when an incident of bullying occurs except for incidents when a student may be at risk for abuse, rejection or neglect. This exception was given especially for LGBTQ youth, where 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ in this country due to rejection at home. There are other incidents where this exception is important too.
- Cyberbullying: The bill added social networking sites to the definition of electronic form of bullying. While this isn't needed, it's always good to clarify.
- Authority off School Grounds: The bill gives administrators the explicit ability to investigate incidents of bullying when they happen off school grounds. Right now, administrators should investigate incidents but some feel they do not have that authority. This would eliminate any reason not to investigate.
- Investigation Training/Mentoring Program: The bill would require investigation training and have the Iowa Department of Education develop a pilot mentoring program dependant on an appropriation. The investigation training was given an initial appropriation of $150,000 and the mentoring program $50,000. In the version of the bill passed by the Senate, the appropriation was taken out but the policy language remained. In my opinion it's okay an appropriation was not given because the most important part of all of this bill was the…
- Workgroup: The state has never conducted a statewide assessment of what the problem is when it comes to bullying. Yes, we know of incidents of bullying that happens and that schools are ill equipped for the issue including needing training and programming. However, the state needs to do a thorough assessment of the extent of these issues, where our highest needs are, and make recommendations for things schools can do cost effectively and what things need appropriations. Investigation training and mentoring could be wonderful tools for schools to utilize, but it's premature to throw funding and solo programming efforts without a statewide comprehensive look.
The bully bill passed the Iowa Senate on March 31st with a bipartisan vote of 43-7. The Iowa House Education Committee immediately took up the bill the next day on April 1st and passed it out of Committee meeting the final funnel deadline.
Since April 1st, the bill has been placed on and off the House Debate Calendar – finally falling off of it completely. The Iowa Senate included the bully bill language in the initial Standings Bill (SF510). The Iowa House did a strike all and one of the parts taken out was the bully bill. During debate in the Iowa House on the Standings Bill, Representative Chris Hall debated an amendment that would have put the bully bill language back in. On a vote of 46-50, the amendment failed. Five House Republicans did join all the House Democrats who were in attendance in supporting the amendment.
The given reason for either not voting for the bill on the Iowa House floor or defeating the amendment was that it denied parent's rights and it gave too broad of authority off school grounds. Those two statements are completely false. Parents are not included in the current code and this would finally include them.
As we all know, no bill is truly dead until the legislative session has adjourned for the year. The prospects on passing the bully bill do look slim and with the same membership coming back next year, may have to wait until after the election for some new membership.
In the meantime, it's important everyone knows your rights. All parents/guardians, and students are encouraged to file reports of incidents of bullying when they happen. On or off school grounds – no one can help if people don't know the problem has happened. If a student needs someone to talk to, there are a number of resources who are available 24/7 and do not depend on the school year.
For LGBTQ youth – check out The Trevor Project – www.thetrevorproject.org or call their hotline anytime at 1-866-488-7386
To talk to a counselor on bullying or suicide prevention for anyone call Your Life Iowa – http://yourlifeiowa.org/ – 1-855-581-8111
If you need additional resources – feel free to reach out to Iowa Safe Schools at www.iowasafeschools.org or call 515-471-8024. If it's an emergency or need counseling assistance please call either of those two numbers above.