Governor Terry Branstad’s new anti-bullying plan would require school officials to notify the parents of a student who is “involved in a bullying incident.” Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who’s a former high school teacher, says legislators “need more clarification” about that idea.
“Boy, there’s some gray area,” Byrnes says. “Kind of like the whole mandatory reporter thing? If you know something as an educator, you have to report it?…If I’m a high school principal and I think there’s some bullying or we have something happen at school, am I now obligated as an administrator to go out onto the social media and find out if there is cyber-bullying going on between those two students, too?”
According to the governor’s staff, parents can’t act to protect their kids if they don’t know there is a problem and that “parental notification requirement” would help. Branstad’s proposal would give school officials “discretion” to respond to bullying outside of school if someone files a complaint and the alleged bullying has “significant impact on students on school grounds.”
Representative Frank Wood, a Democrat from Ellsworth who is a principal at North Scott High School, says that’s already his school’s policy, spelled out in the student handbook.
“To me, it’s just like fighting off of school grounds. We don’t do anything off of school grounds, but if it’s brought onto school grounds, now we can deal with it,” Wood says. “Same thing with cyber bullying, any type of bullying — if it becomes a school issue, we can deal with it.”
Wood predicts Republican concerns about infringing on parental rights will ultimately doom the governor’s anti-bullying plan.
“It’s my understanding that the biggest issue is that there’s some feeling that it’s ‘big government’ or ‘big daddy’ looking over your shoulder,” Wood says.
Branstad’s anti-bullying plan requires all “licensed school officials” to complete a training program in how to respond to bullying. The governor’s budget plan sets aside $25,000 for a series of “webinars” that would provide the training — free of charge — to teachers, principals and superintendents.