Lawmakers must address bullying this session

Legislators will return to the statehouse this week to myriad agendas and priorities which will impact the future of Iowans. There are always many high-priority items that will grab attention, but we think this has to be the year lawmakers act on improving laws that impact one our most vulnerable populations.

Let’s address the laws that govern how bullying is handled in schools.

Gov. Terry Branstad has promised to introduce a proposal for new policies on bullying prevention in his Condition of the State address. Last year, a bill targeting anti-bullying measures was introduced late in the session and failed to advance.

However, Branstad maintained bullying prevention as a key priority and hosted his second annual bullying prevention summit in November. While the summits have drawn in national experts, and also centered on student input, now is the time for action to materialize at the statehouse.

It’s paramount we enable teachers and school administrators to address cyberbullying. This would give kids who are reporting harassment that occurred online, and often outside of school, a chance at a resolution. Some of the most hateful and damaging bullying can take place online. We think there is plenty of room to strengthen policy to help eradicate this problem.

Furthermore, parental involvement and accountability could easily be a valuable component in a bullying prevention law.

What we know for sure is that about half of Iowa students have reported being bullied at school in some way, but most suffer in silence. We also know the number of students who have been bullied increases when you include instances of harassment on social network sites and smart phones.

We also know that many communities and schools, such as Marshalltown, have collaborated to proactively address bullying issues.

Groups such as Marshalltown’s Not In Our Town believe we can do better to make sure students and other members of the community feel safe and accepted. All Iowans should.

This is the legislative session in which lawmakers should make use of what we’ve learned and propel us further in meeting this challenge head on. Our children deserve it.