Governor Terry Branstad is proposing a bill that he says will help combat bullying in Iowa schools. Matt Carver of the School Administrators of Iowa worked on the legislation.
“It would give more authority to school administrators as we’re facing issues with students while they’re bullying and harassing other students outside of school,” Carver says.
The target is co-called “cyber-bullying” — the use of tweets, texts and Facebook posts to keep the bullying going outside of school hours.
“The problem has been really a loss of civility where we’ve students who are going well beyond speech that should be considered protected speech and they’re getting into things where just simply they’re just bullying other students or harassing other students,” Carver says, “so this legislation would provide some authority for administrators to take action whereas in the past they very likely did not have authority to take action regarding some of these things that are going on with the social media.”
Backers of the bill say it protects the First Amendment rights of students by making it clear the legislation does not apply to students who are expressing their political or religious views or comments on matters of legitimate public concern. However, the bill does shield school employees who decide not to act on cases of alleged cyber-bullying.
“What we didn’t want to do is face a situation where school officials were concerned that they’re exposing themselves to liability and then, unintentionally, we might end up with a situation where they were going too far or being too aggressive in using their authority,” Carver says, “because we want to be very careful that we’re not infringing on the speech rights of students.”
Carver is legal services director for the School Administrators of Iowa. The Republican legislator who is chairman of the House Education Committee is the lead sponsor of this anti-bullying bill. The bill must clear his committee by week’s end to remain eligible for debate in the legislature.