Legislators have started, again, to hammer out the details of a bill that would give school officials greater authority to address bullying that occurs on social media, outside of school hours.
This is the third straight year legislators have tried to tackle the issue and Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, calls for quick action.
“One of the things that’s so bad about this subject is it takes away from our kids’ ability to excel,” Hogg says.
Governor Branstad has proposed that this year’s bill include the requirement that parents be notified about bullying incidents that are investigated by school officials. A three-member senate subcommittee is considering the idea of giving students the ability to veto that notification if they fear they’d be kicked out of their home once a parent finds out they’re being bullied.
Danny Carroll of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian group, opposes that. “That section is troubling regarding an exception for telling parents what’s going on,” Carroll says.
Advocates worry some children might be kicked out of their home if a parent learns they’re being bullied by schoolmates because they’re homosexual. Connie Ryan Terrell, a lobbyist for the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, says students need to have the option to nix notice to their parents.
“A child who is bullied, they know whether or not it’s safe at home for the parents to receive that information. Also, when a child is bullied, they have no power,” Ryan Terrell says. “Part of bullying is part of that power imbalance and so it gives them that power back.”
But critics say if that veto power stays in the bill, a student could too easily keep their parents in the dark about bullying.
Another new wrinkle in this year’s legislation would set aside money for anti-bullying “pilot projects” at four Iowa schools. Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, wants to ensure two of those four schools are in rural Iowa.
“There are real serious issues out in our rural schools because there is a lot of isolation in many cases,” Johnson says.
The three-member subcommittee of senators is scheduled to meet again today to try to iron out some of these details. Policy bills like this one must clear a committee in either the House or the Senate by Friday, March 6 or the bills are ineligible for consideration after that deadline.