An anti-bullying bill blocked by some statehouse Republicans for years because it denounces the bullying of gay students now appears to be on the fast track at the statehouse. The bill would force every Iowa school district to adopt an anti-harassment policy that specifically forbids bullying based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical appearance or socio-economic class.
The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee Wednesday. Brad Clark, executive director for a group called "Iowa Safe Schools," was there to support the bill. "Obviously this law isn’t going to fix all of our problems, but what it’s going to do is send a message from the very top saying we need to take this very seriously," Clark says. "Every kid deserves protection."
But some Republicans, like Senator Nancy Boettger of Harlan, have long opposed the move to specify which students need protection. "My kids have all been bullied at some point or another and the…reasons wouldn’t fit into any of these categories and I think that’s wrong," Boettger says. Boettger says her husband was teased as a teen because he was a farm kid and one of her sons was teased as a teenager because he decided not to have sex until he was married.
"I love kids and I’m a former teacher, but kids are mean and they do mean stuff to each other," Boettger says. But she argues all kids should be protected from harassment, not just kids who are grouped into a special class. Bill supporters like Clark cite studies indicating 60 percent of gay students don’t feel safe in school.
"You know if we had civil rights policies that said ‘Let’s just not discriminate’ we wouldn’t be anywhere in terms of treating people of color, in treating women with equal rights," Clark says. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on an 11 to four vote. It will next be debated by the full, 50-member state senate. A similar anti-bullying bill is making its way through the Iowa House.