Governor Jay Nixon (D) has signed into law a youth suicide and cyber bullying prevention bill. The legislation directs the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to develop guidelines and training materials and to require each school district to have a policy in place by 2018 about youth suicide awareness and prevention. It also clarifies the definition of bullying and includes the definition of cyber bullying in state statutes regarding schools’ anti-bullying policies.
Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) sponsored the measure for six years. She is termed out of office and the bill passed in the final week of this year’s legislative session.
Allen says the legislation doesn’t protect districts from being sued if policy isn’t followed.
“You’d like to think that DESE is doing oversight of schools in the state, but sometimes oversight is weak, not just in DESE.”
The measure also allows educators, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, to annually complete up to two hours of training or professional development in youth suicide awareness and prevention to satisfy a portion of the hours required for professional development.
Allen says some wanted the bill to specify what types of bullying it prevented, including on the basis of sexuality, race and religion.
“That would never have gotten through the Senate. It would never. Basically, it’s every child and every child includes children with the issues of sexual orientation, children with disabilities, smart kids, chubby kids, kids with behavior disorders,” said Allen. “No child is any more precious than any other child. Where do you draw the line and how do you define the line?”
Allen says two of the most difficult aspects of her work on this bill has been hearing about the pain that children go through when bullied. She also recalls hearing from parents who asked school officials to intervene in cases of bullying, but administrators refused to get involved.