Iowa Senator Tom Harkin plans to lead a field hearing in Iowa tomorrow on the topic of bullying and what can be done to stop it.
Harkin is chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which will be meeting at East High School in Des Moines. Harkin is also releasing a new report on bullying from the General Accounting Office.
“A key finding is that there are major gaps in legal protections for vulnerable groups of students and those gaps need to be more fully addressed,” Harkin says.
“My hope is that the hearing and the new GAO report will give fresh impetus to a bill that I introduced last year, the Successful Safe and Healthy Students Act of 2011. It aims to ensure all children are able to attend schools that are free of bullying and harassment.” Harkin, a Democrat, notes that bullying is a growing, national concern.
“Iowa has seen first-hand the devastating impact bullying can have on a community,” Harkin says. “This spring, a (young man) took his own life after being targeted for bullying in northwest Iowa. No one, certainly not our children, should face bullying and harassment simply for being who they are.”
Harkin says about one in every five children face bullying at some point in their lives, while 85% of students with disabilities report being bullied. He says students who are gay, lesbian or transgendered are also at high risk.
“Bullying often leaves physical scars but it also has adverse effects on mental health, concentration and academic outcome,” Harkin says. “I’ve heard from all too many young people who were compelled to drop out of school because of the hostile climate and lack of protections at their school.”
A former student in the Sioux City school system was featured in a recent documentary about bullying. Some believe it put the city in a very bad light and damaged its reputation.
Harkin disagrees and recently sent a letter to the Sioux City Journal commending the school system’s participation in the movie.
“I think the positive thing is that Sioux City was willing to open its doors and show for the rest of the country to see what happens to kids and thus, what needs to be done,” Harkin says. “I think the positive spin is the Sioux City Public Schools and the superintendent were very courageous and open to do this.”
The hearing is scheduled for 1:15 PM on Friday at the East High cafeteria.
Witnesses will include Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education; Linda Calbom, Western Regional Manager at the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Paul Gausman, Superintendent of the Sioux City Community School District; and students and educators from around the state.