September 1, 2014

Anti-bullying bill clears initial House hurdle (AUDIO)

School officials would have clear legal authority to discipline students who use Twitter and Facebook to bully other students if a bill pending in the Iowa House becomes law.

“I compare some of the social media to the way it was in the wild west. They had to establish some laws and get some order and this helps us do that,” says Tom Narak, government relations director for the School Administrators of Iowa. “We help kids understand you can use social media, but our expectation is you use it responsibly — and you’re not picking on other kids as you’re doing it.”

The bill was crafted by lawyers for the School Administrators of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Education. It has the support of Governor Branstad. However, some groups have raised questions about the proposal. Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards, says school board members have “a bit of uncomfortableness” about the bill’s scope.

“It really allows us to start policing what happens at home and have some real concerns about putting boards in that position,” she says. “Obviously, they’re not the ones that will be required to go in and do that, but they are the ones that will be required to deal with whatever the aftermath might be — litigation, dealing with suspension, expulsion.”

Matt Carver, legal counsel for the School Administrators of Iowa, says families are already asking school officials to intervene when bullying on social media sites gets out of hand.

“This is really about changing the culture in our schools and in our communities,” Carver says, “and we feel that this legislation will go a long way to changing that culture by really clarifying and simplifying the message as we try to educate Iowans.”

The bill is on a fast-track at the statehouse. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, is a former high school biology teacher. He’s the bill’s manager and leader of a three-member panel that held a public hearing on the legislation this morning.

“Each and every one of us sitting here could probably tell a story of someone, something, you know, of a situation where we’ve had bullying in a school district,” Byrnes said. “…Definitely an issue in the state of Iowa. It’s an issue nationwide. I’m glad we’ve got a framework here to get started from.”

AUDIO of subcommittee meeting (runs 36 minutes)

The bill cleared the three-member subcommittee today and will be considered by the House Education Committee Wednesday or Thursday.