DES MOINES - Bullying victims, school superintendents and other officials told Iowa lawmakers Thursday that anti-bullying bills wouldn't solve every problem but would make a big difference to many students.
Subcommittees in the state House and Senate took up the bills, both of which would require that parents be notified if school officials learn their children have been bullied. The bills also would require that administrators and teachers be given training for responding to and preventing bullying, and they would let officials respond to cases of cyberbullying away from school because such actions affect students at school.
Jacob Stallman, an 18-year-old from Tipton, said his experiences with bullying prove legislation is needed.
Paul Gregoire, vice president at Emerson/Fisher and representing the Marshalltown Not In Our Town anti-bullying committee, makes a presentation Thursday before a House Committee to show support for HSB 535 proposed bill on school bullying at the Capitol in Des Moines. At left is Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville.
Since fifth grade, Stallman said he has been ridiculed for anything from his weight to his sexuality. He knew something needed to change when his peers took the bullying to social media, posting harsh comments on Facebook and Twitter, and administrators at his school didn't take action.
His situation worsened when he received a death threat from a group of students. He never learned the identities of the students, he said, but he continues to face them daily.
"All I know is that I'm walking through the same halls as them at school," he said.
Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said establishing a safe and healthy environment for students in schools translates to a safe and healthy state. The legislation is one way to establish such an environment, he said.
Both bills would give administrators and teachers discretion on how they respond to bullying complaints.
Although both also would require that districts provide training on handling bullying situations, they vary on how to carry out and pay for the training.
The House proposal would use $25,000 from the education budget to pay for online training, similar to what has been done to educate athletic staff about concussions. The Senate bill seeks $300,000 for training.
Several superintendents praised the House bill and agreed with lawmakers that the state needs to take action to make schools safer. They also said the training requirements would make clear what's expected of them.
"It won't solve everything, but it's going to get us much more focused than we've been in the past," said Joel Pedersen, superintendent of Iowa's Cardinal Community School District.
Rep. Quentin Stanerson, R-Center Point, said legislation wouldn't end bullying, but it would be a step in the right direction.
"No legislation is going to totally solve bullying," he said. "That doesn't mean you can't find things to help with it."
The House panel approved its bill. The Senate subcommittee didn't take action but will discuss its bill again.
Gov. Terry Branstad has made cracking down on school bullying a priority, outlining his goals to address cyberbullying and keep parents involved during his Condition of the State address.
Adam Gregg, legislative liaison for the governor, said he is encouraged by the similarities between the bills and that the focus in both remains on putting an end to bullying.
"We want to make clear that bullying is unacceptable for any reason," Gregg said.