New Anti-bullying Legislation Proposed
March 1, 2013 by Tracy Harms
In an effort to better protect students in Iowa, School Administrators of Iowa worked closely with the governor’s office and the Iowa Department of Education to produce proposed anti-bullying legislation, House Study Bill 196. This legislation is being introduced by Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, who chairs the House Education Committee.
Matt Carver, SAI’s Legal Services director, believes that the proposed legislation will lead to better protection of students in Iowa, while also ensuring the free expression rights of students are maintained, and that school officials will not face increased liability due to the expanded scope of their authority when they decide to act or not act on alleged bullying or harassment which occurs outside of school and away from school activities. The bottom line is that the proposed legislation will protect all of Iowa’s students against bullying or harassment which occurs for any reason.
As stated in a press release from Gov. Branstad’s office, changes proposed to existing statute include the following:
1. Giving schools more authority to address cyberbullying by (a) adding “social networking” to the definition of electronic communications and (b) stating that nothing stops a school from addressing bullying or harassment that occurs away from school or a school function, while providing additional protection to school employees who decide not to act on alleged bullying under those circumstances.
2. Expanding the definition of traits or characteristics by adding “other distinguishing characteristic.”
3. Separating the definition of harassment and bullying. Harassment means conduct or an act based on an actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student. Bullying is conduct or an act for “any reason other than any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student.” Sometimes kids are bullied for reasons that are not properly categorized as a trait or characteristic. Examples include relationship status, such as a boy threatening a classmate dating his former girlfriend, or a group of girls shunning a girl they’ve decided to pick on.
4. Requiring online posting of anti-bullying policies and complaint forms.
5. Protecting students’ First Amendment rights by stating that nothing in the legislation shall be construed to restrain or discipline speech that expresses political, religious or other protected categories of speech, which address legitimate matters of public concern.