Missouri school districts and charter schools could lose state funding and be fined if they fail to adequately report incidents of bullying. The Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee is reviewing a bill that would hit schools where it hurts.

Rep. John Black, R-Marshfield, is sponsoring House Bill 2630.

“Bullying and lack of discipline generally are having a significant impact on our public schools,” Black told the committee. “For some reason, some schools are not taking effective action with regard to bullying and discipline. The scales that some schools utilize to determine whether to take effective action with regard to these problems don’t have enough weight on the side of the scales to go ahead and take effective action.”

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, thinks she knows why. She said teachers and administrators and scared to report bullying.

“Especially the ones where they were thinking that they could be sued,” said Terry. “That’s all I hear in some of the schools that I represent is that they’re not going to be sued. They have stood by and watched things happen. I would prefer more that the student is just expelled. It’s time that we get back to basics with some things. If you didn’t come to school to learn, then you need to go somewhere else.”

The bill includes legal protections for school districts, charter schools, and the employees if procedures are properly followed.

Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, is a former superintendent. He explained that superintendents have three-year contracts, whereas principals have a one-year contract.

“I would like to think that your contract doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re going to do, what’s right for kids,” he said. “But when you’ve got people raising families, and you’re on a one-year contract, and you know that this young man or young woman that you’re having issues with may be a family member of an influential person in the community, and you’re going to do what you need to do and do the right thing, then you might be fighting for your job later.”

If a school district or charter school fails to report bullying incidents, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would be required to withhold 10% of monthly funding until the school is in compliance. Districts or charter schools that do not provide intervention or follow procedures on bullying would have money withheld in the amount of the state adequacy target multiplied by the number of failures. Multiple occurrences of bullying in a single semester by a student would result in a fine.

Under the bill, an employee could lose certification if they refuse or neglect to appropriately report these incidents.

Brandt Shields, with the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said the group is not taking a position on the bill.

“We need to continue to make schools safer,” said Shields. “But how do we do that in a way where we’re not necessarily penalizing the school for a parent who may not be engaging with their student the way they should? I think there’s always a carrot solution and a stick solution. This feels very much like a stick solution and I want to help us find the carrot solution.”

A House education committee is reviewing the bill and could vote on the plan soon.

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