Legislative attempts to set in state statute how school districts should define and deal with bullying have come and gone for another session without a bill being passed.
The key dividing issue remains whether to allow schools to enumerate, or to list groups of individuals that are protected from bullying based on things like sexual orientation, race or religion. Several versions of the bill would preserve current statute that disallows such lists of protected classes.
Democrats maintain that such lists are necessary to deal with issues that vary from district to district across the state. Republicans say enumeration would give preference to certain groups and argue that current statutes protects all students equally.
Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis City) says in the final days of the session there was agreement reached between the two sides on letting local school districts decide whether to enumerate. He says that would be a good compromise.
“Every school district’s unique … as to their geographic location and, in essence, their constituencies. The folks that go to school in the City of St. Louis is a different constituency than the folks that go to school in Ladue, than the folks that go to school in Springfield, than the folks that go to school in Liberty. The issues are different.”
Sponsor of bullying legislation Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) says she suspects the only
reason some of her fellow House Republicans were willing to vote for a bill that would let local school districts choose whether to enumerate was because they expected enumeration to be rejected in the Senate.
“I think the fact that we passed it in the House may be a bit deceptive.”
Senator Ed Emery (R-Lamar) confirms there is still division in the Senate, saying he will block any bill that allows enumeration.
“The identification of special groups by local school districts is not allowed is the language that is currently in statute and I am in favor of leaving that language in statute.”
Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) on the other hand says she will block any bullying bill that does not allow enumeration. She says leaving that up to local control is the right approach.
“I think it makes no sense to pass a state law that says a specific school district can address a specific issue, and it’s not just a gay and lesbian issue. It’s the disability issue, it’s poverty. It’s all sorts of different things.”
Allen says in days after the session ended she was ready to give up on the issue, calling it a “lose-lose” situation. Now she says she’s contemplating a different approach in 2014.
“Maybe next year, just look at the definition of bullying and cyberbullying and make it short and sweet, and not make it as all-encompassing as what we had, but try to come up with a way that everybody is going to see what is really important here. In my opinion it’s a safer school environment for all kids.”
Allen says if she can pass a simpler bill in 2014, she might try for the broader legislation if she is back in the legislature in the 2015-16 term.