A Slew of New Anti-Bullying Bills Seek To Curb Bad Behavior
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No one likes a bully.
This year there are several bills addressing anti-bullying policies for school districts. These bills are in response to increased reported incidences of bullying in public school and some tragic consequences of such bullying. Representative Sue Allen has again filed her anti-bullying policy bill HB1583 which adds to the original anti-bullying language passed in 2007 in HB1543. The new bill contains very detailed instructions on how schools and school officials are to handle instances of bullying and the issue of bullying in totality. Other bills by Rep. English (HB1384), Sen. Sifton (SB728), and Sen Nasheed (SB748) also address school anti-bullying policies and are among the 305 education bills filed thus far this session.
The sections of these bills that the public should be paying attention to are 160.775.4(8)(c) and (e) shown below which are the same in HB1583 and SB748.
(c) The school district shall provide education and information to students regarding bullying, including information regarding the school district policy prohibiting bullying, the harmful effects of bullying, and other applicable initiatives to prevent bullying, including student peer-to-peer initiatives to provide accountability and policy enforcement for those found to have engaged in bullying, reprisal, or retaliation against any person who reports an act of bullying;
(c) The administration of the school district shall implement programs and other initiatives to prevent bullying to respond to such conduct in a manner that does not stigmatize the victim, and to make resources or referrals available to victims of bullying.
Good government is that which governs least, which allows decisions to be made at the most local level possible. It is a shame that such specifics as to reporting and action requirements which are written into both bills even need to be codified into state law. However, given that lawsuits have been filed elsewhere when no action or different action took place, such statutory language provides protection for adults to act as adults acted in the past to address the negative but common issue of juvenile bullying.
The sections noted above are appropriately loose enough to provide districts with latitude to select the education programs and initiatives they feel most beneficial to address the issue of bullying. The caution then comes to parents to watch what those programs are.
A middle school in West Allegheny PA recently ran afoul of parents with a Kindness Workshop they conducted to address bullying. In that workshop they used an activity called Step-In Step-Out which has been used other places under a number of names such as The Gray Line and Claim It which Fulton Middle School used last March for which it received a lot of parent backlash. The activity involves a facilitator reading a series of statements, some of which are very personal (e.g. You or someone close to you identifies as gay, lesbian, or transgendered.) and asking students to physically move (into a circle, across a line etc.) if such a statement applies to them. Such sessions become, as parents fear, an ammo bonanza for the bullies who now know all kinds of sensitive personal information about their peers/victims.
An Allegheny parent, Diane Kolesar, worried, “There is now so much damage done to these children and there is no way to go back and make this better for them.”
The Claim It exercise was developed and copyrighted, according to their website, by the Race Bridges Studio which is a ministry of the Chicago Province of the Society of the Divine Word. The Society of the Divine Word (S.V.D.) is an international religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church. Schools choosing to use this activity may want to let parents know in advance that they are using a Roman Catholic developed exercise.
Of greater overall concern, however, is the focus on the activity of bullying. Does such intense focus inadvertently lead to more bullying as the focus and training on diversity has led to more discrimination and harassment charges?
Major employers have paid out millions of dollars in discrimination claims because of diversity-training programs. One Fortune 500 company paid out tens of millions of dollars in response to a class-action racial discrimination suit by minority employees, which was fueled by remarks management employees made after undergoing mandatory diversity training.
Hyper sensitizing students to acts of bullying may increase acts of bullying in reality or in perception. The Cyberbully Hotline cited a recent study by the University of Texas at Arlington of 7,000 students in all 50 states which looked at a number of factors related to bullying including schools have anti-bullying programs or not. According to Cyberbullying’s site, “Researchers found that students were more likely to have experienced bullying at schools that have an anti-bullying program.”
Cyberbully cautioned that it should not be concluded that schools should not have an anti-bullying program. “A more accurate statement is to say that students at schools with ineffective approaches to bullying prevention are more likely to be bullied.” The school climate regarding intolerance of bullying and the identification of students at risk for bullying due to ecological conditions (e.g. age, race, sex, parental supervision etc.) are more predictive of success in reducing bullying.
Should HB1583 or SB748 be passed, it will be up to the local districts to identify effective approaches for their anti-bullying programs. Cyberbully suggests that schools which have the power to hold bullies accountable for their behavior can stay focused on the more important objective of educating students and building a positive school climate. They claim “Perhaps the most effective means of stopping bullying is giving students the ability to report bullying anonymously. When bullying victims and bystanders are free to report bullying anonymously, without fear of retribution from the bullies or punishment from school administrators, bad behavior can go down dramatically.” Sadly, punishment of the victims by administrators who are motivated to keep the reported incidence numbers down is one cause of increased bullying. Thus, sections 4 (1)-(6) of these bills become the important focus of efforts to curb bad behavior with natural consequences.