March 28, 2015

Missouri bullying debate touches local control, enumeration issues

The state House is close to sending to the Senate a bill to require anti-bullying policies in Missouri schools. The legislation touches on issues state lawmakers have debated several times in recent years.

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

Bullying legislation is again sponsored by Representative Sue Allen (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 458, sponsored by Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country), would require districts to have policies that define, and lay out how they will deal with, bullying and cyberbullying.

The bill was opposed by fellow Republican Rick Brattin (Harrisonville), who thinks that isn’t an issue the legislature should deal with.

“We have bullies and we are not going to stop bullying ever. It’s not going to happen,” said Brattin. “We can either create a society where you stand up for yourself or you are nothing but a victim and someone else has to take care of your problems.”

Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) accused Brattin of blaming the victims of bullying.

“Maybe they were brought up that blackening somebody’s eye isn’t the right way to do it. They need an avenue. They need a method, a way, to address this,” said Colona. “This bill does a lot of good moving in the right direction.”

Such legislation has failed in past years amid debate about whether it should allow school districts to list specific classes of people it would protect based on things like religion, sexual preference, or race.

Representative Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City) thinks it should.

“We know what’s good for one district is not always good for every district,” said Morgan. “We’ve spoken about the importance of local control many times in this chamber.”

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) argues allowing such lists to exist means some children would not be protected.

“For as many different things as children do, you can think of a thing that another kid will bully them about,” said Barnes.

The bill is one favorable vote away from going to the state Senate without allowing for such lists.

House considers adding online safety to sex ed in Missouri

Missouri lawmakers are considering adding information about sexual predators and online predators to what school children are taught about sex.

Representative Genise Montecillo at a hearing of the House Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.  (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications.)

Representative Genise Montecillo  (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications.)

House Bill 501 would add to what children are already taught about human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases information about sexual predators, online predators and inappropriate text messaging. It would require they be taught about behaving responsibly and remaining safe online and how to communicate with adults about inappropriate situations and abuse.

Bill sponsor Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) says children are often victimized online when they are seeking attention.

“They’re looking for someone to pay attention to them, they’re looking for someone who will communicate with them, and what they often don’t know is that other person on the other end of the line may be 20 or 30-plus years older than them, and they do ask to meet,” Montecillo told a House committee.

Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri Kids First says the proposal would give children needed information to protect themselves from the threats they face online.

“To be able to see situations where they do need to contact an adult or where they do recognize that someone is violating boundaries even in an online sense,” said van Schenkhof.

The bill is supported by the Missouri Catholic Conference and the Missouri National Education Association. No one spoke in opposition to the bill in that hearing.


Missouri senators threaten budget cuts for schools that fail to stop bullying

State Senators have reacted to a report of the beating of an autistic boy at a Kansas City-area middle school with a threat to cut funding when schools don’t prevent such incidents.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (left) has been voted the chairman of the Joint Committee on Governmental Accountability, which Senator Eric Schmitt is also a member of.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (left) and Senator Eric Schmitt spoke about the recent attack on a 12-year-old student at the Liberty Middle School and a possible response in the state budget.

A 12-year-old boy spent several days in the hospital and suffered a fractured jaw and skull and damaged inner ear after the attack at the Liberty Middle School. His family says it had warned school officials that the attacker had bullied his older brother and says those warnings went unheeded.

Senator Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) said that part of the story, reported extensively by the Kansas City Star, troubled him.

“The grandfather, according to the news reports, sent a certified letter weeks ahead of time. Certified, which means that he knew that something was going to happen and he knew that unfortunately when it happened, he was going to have to prove that he tried to warn them,” said Silvey.

Talking with Silvey, whose district includes Liberty, and other senators in the state Senate chamber, Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) said it sounds as though Liberty school officials failed in their jobs.

“I don’t know what has to happen for some of these folks to start paying attention, but I think part of the strategy might be, you know what? All the dollars that you claim that you … some of that might be at risk if you don’t do your job,” said Schmitt.

He spoke with the Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Kurt Schafer (R-Columbia) about keeping the Liberty story in mind during the budget process that will unfold in the next couple of months.

“For us to begin to think of ways to have carrots and sticks,” said Schmitt, “when it comes to people not doing their job who get millions of dollars from the state every year.”

Schmitt says he will again handle legislation to require schools to have an anti-bullying policy.  Such bills have stalled in past sessions over a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about whether to specify what groups a policy would protect, such people who identify as having a certain sexual orientation, race or religion.

Senate to debate school transfer bill this week

The state Senate is expected to debate proposed changes to the student transfer law this week.

Senator David Pearce (Courtesy, Missouri Senate)

Senator David Pearce (Courtesy, Missouri Senate)

Four bills had been proposed that would take different approaches at changing the law that lets students in poor-performing schools transfer to better performing ones, at the expense of the sending school. A Senate Committee combined those into one.

Senator David Pearce says one goal is to reduce the number of students transferring.

“As opposed to crediting by entire districts, what we want to do is have an accreditation process by building, so if students are in unaccredited buildings, they would have the option to go to accredited buildings in their district before they transfer out,” Pearce told Missourinet.

Pearce says Governor Jay Nixon’s influence means this year’s bill won’t include a so-called “private option,” that would have let tax dollars to go private schools in some circumstances.

“He said if that wasn’t in … he would entertain an expansion of charter schools and entertain an expansion of virtual schools, and so that’s kind of where Senate Bill 1 is headed this year,” said Pearce.

Nixon said that provision caused him to veto last year’s version of the bill.

Some have criticized that the bill goes too far.

“The transfer issue should focus on those students in unaccredited districts, and I do think version that came out of the Senate Education Committee goes beyond that, and I think it’s almost an open enrollment for virtual schools for the entire state,” said Pearce. “That’s probably something that we will take a look at as we debate on the floor.”

The senate will not be in session today due to weather, so it’s debate schedule for the rest of the week could be adjusted as well.


Missouri House bill would block college aid to immigrant students

A bill aimed at barring some immigrant students from getting state aid for higher education funding will be heard in a House committee today.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) says the Department of Higher Education is attempting through a rule change to extend free tuition to some immigrant students who, through action by the Obama Administration in 2012, were once considered to be in the country illegally but no longer face deportation.

Fitzpatrick says there are some Missouri citizens who risk not getting help to get into college.

“I think it’s a bad policy to give a better tuition rate to illegal immigrants than to give to United State citizens and in some cases Missouri citizens,” Fitzpatrick told Missourinet.

Fitzpatrick has proposed a bill that would bar anyone without legal status from getting state higher education aid.

“My feeling is if they’re here illegally they shouldn’t be getting public money to go to college. I think that’s kind of contrary to what we need to be doing to try and prevent people from coming here the wrong way,” said Fitzpatrick.

Testimony for and against Fitzpatrick’s proposal will be heard today.

The legislation is HB 187.