April 19, 2014

House approves legislation to battle bullying in public schools

The House has sent the Senate legislation to have school districts add discrimination to anti-bullying policies.

Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The proposal sponsored by Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) says those policies should bar bullying on school grounds, at school events and on school buses, and defines cyberbullying. It also lays out what should go into a policy and would require the State Board of Education to develop model policies by September 1.

The debate in recent years in the House has centered on whether an anti-bullying bill should specify who it protects by listing factors for discrimination: things like sexual orientation, race or religion.

Allen’s bill does not. She says a blanket approach means no children will be left out.

“I contend there is no specific profile or picture of any student, girl or boy, who is potentially a victim of bullying.”

Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis City) references an unrelated piece of legislation filed last year in the House in arguing that enumeration is needed.

“Fifteen or twenty co-sponsors on a bill that says we can’t say ‘gay’ in school, and I’m supposed to trust school administrators to make sure that LGBT students aren’t bullied? It doesn’t fly. It doesn’t fly.”

Representative Margo McNeil (D-Florissant) says children would be made safer and better able to learn by a bill that includes specifics about who it protects.

“Because it fails to define who or what is considered bullying it leaves huge areas of gray. I maintain that murkiness is one reason why so many children are bullied because of their sexual orientation and religion.”

Representative Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs) says attempting to list all possible factors for discrimination would surely miss some children who also need protection.

“If I see somebody hurting a child I’m going to be out there taking care of them and protecting them, and I don’t care if it falls in a category or not. That’s not the issue. The issue is that we’re supposed to be here protecting our children.”

The House voted 141-10 to send the proposal to the Senate.