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Bullying is becoming more prevalent inside and outside our Iowa schools. These acts of harassment and bullying are being shared on social media, reported on the six o’clock news and written about in the newspaper the following day. Today, Iowa students fall victim to bullying because of the clothes they wear, the friends they spend time with, whether they play sports, their religious faith or who they may date. These acts of harassment on the playground, in the classroom or online may escalate resulting in threats of violence or actual physical confrontation. Every student in Iowa should feel safe in their learning environment.
The Governor and the legislature have committed to working toward policy that will reduce the incidence of bullying in our schools and playgrounds. I share that goal. However I am very disappointed in the language in SF2318 that passed out of the Senate this week on a party line vote. There are several components of that bill that I object to.
First are the parental notification requirements that are in the bill. It appears that the parent’s role is barely an afterthought. The bill calls for parental notification “upon the investigation and determination that harassment or bullying has occurred”. Senate Republicans offered an amendment that calls for “the immediate notification of the parents and guardians of all students directly involved in a reported incident of harassment or bullying”. The distinction is critical. We believe parents should be part of the investigation and determination, not be notified after the fact.
Second, current Iowa law does not protect all children from bullying, and the language in SF2318 does not correct that. Current code limits the definition of bullying to nineteen traits or characteristics of students, but clearly excludes students who do not have one of those traits or characteristics. I believe that is wrong because I believe all students should be equally protected from bullying by the Iowa code. Again, our amendment to protect all students was denied by Senate Democrats.
Third, SF2318 creates another new bureaucracy, the Office for Support and Analysis for Safe Schools. It spends $250,000 for the establishment of this office. In addition, it spends $750,000 for the School Climate Improvement Grant Program. Again, this grant program will single out certain schools that will receive this money, while most schools are excluded. Good state policy should include all students in all schools
Fourth, the new bill requires additional training for all licensed and certified individuals prior to issuance or renewal of their teaching certificates, and incorporates this training into the standards for individual professional development plans. In addition the Senate bill, in certain circumstances, requires that “school officials shall investigate and respond appropriately to the alleged incident”. These provisions of the bill place a greater burden on the already heavy demands on our teachers and other school officials.
It’s helpful to look at the lobbyist declarations on this bill. Registered as “undecided” on the bill included the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa State Police Association, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association and the Area Education Agencies. Those groups all recognized the serious flaws in this legislation, and did not support it.
In summary, the amendments we offered on this bill would have helped achieve our goal of addressing the “bully” problems in our schools without creating more bureaucracy, without additional demands on our teachers, and without unnecessary cost to taxpayers, while involving parents immediately in the process.
The bill did pass the Senate on a strictly party line vote with all Democrats supporting this flawed legislation, and all Republicans voting “no”. It’s my hope that the House can significantly improve the legislation and that when we leave Des Moines this year we will have strengthened our policy with respect to bullying, rather than weakened it.
Please join us at our upcoming forums at Eggs and Issues at 8:30 am Saturday, March 22 at Smokey Row, and at Monarchs in Pella at 9:00 am on Saturday, March 29.
Senator Ken Rozenboom
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