Governor Tom Vilsack has sent a letter to school superintendents and principals in Iowa, asking them to crack-down on bullying within their schools. Vilsack says each Iowa school board should adopt a policy that forbids any harassment, bullying and hazing based on the victim’s race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.
“This is a tough issue. A lot of folks don’t like to talk about. A lot of folks would prefer not to be confronted with it,” Vilsack says. “I want children to be able to go to school excited to be there. I want them to feel accepted accepted for who they are. I want our state to sort of blaze a new trail of tolerance and compassion.”
Vilsack tried but failed in each of the past three years to get the legislature to pass a law requiring schools to establish anti-bullying policies that forbid harassment against gay and lesbian students. “It seems to me that every one of us…I suspect has had at some point in time an experience in their life where they have felt fear and anxiety,” Vilsack says. “That’s really what we’re talking about — creating an environment where people do not feel fear and anxiety.”
Vilsack made his comments this spring at a conference of gay and lesbian students, school officials and others who were seeking that anti-bullying law. Vilsack told the assembly he had been bullied as a kid. Vilsack recounted one incident involving what he described as a street gang one night after Vilsack left a Boy Scout meeting at his parochial school in Pittsburgh.
“These were people (who) were a lot older than I was. They were people who had guns and knives…I remember feeling fear, real fear, for the first time in my life,” Vilsack said. “I remember being pushed and shoved during that experience and I remember leaving feeling thankful that I had survived, that I hadn’t been hurt and I decided that I was never going to go back to that place again.”
In his Tuesday letter to Iowa school officials, the governor cited the results of a 2005 Iowa Youth Survey which found 43 percent of the kids questioned said students in their schools “do not treat each other with respect.”