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Harkin and Braley introduce anti-bullying bill

BY GABRIELLA DUNN | SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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While the issue of bullying in schools has often been tackled at both the local and state levels, a new approach proposed by two Iowa members of Congress will try to bring the problem up for federal discussion and action.

The Comprehensive Bill to Promote Student Health and Prevent Bullying, introduced by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was released by Braley on Sept. 18.

If enacted, the bill will create two grant programs, the first providing funding to states for programs to support positive conditions for learning. The second program will fund resources to develop and improve data systems to provide analysis to improve conditions for learning in schools and communities.

Braley said this legislation would help overcome some of the biggest factors impeding student achievement.

“By giving our local schools the resources to develop programs to address issues like bullying and student health, they’ll be better able to provide the supportive learning environment that students need to succeed,” he said in a press release.

For Harkin, the bill also aims to reduce future bullying by gathering data on the incidence and prevalence of violence.

“[This bill] will help ensure that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated fairly and afforded equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom,” he said in an email statement.

Tim Albrecht, Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman, wrote in an email statement Branstad is encouraged that Congress is focused on the importance of bullying, because it is vitally important for students.

But he maintained that Branstad does not believe federal action should come first and is focusing his efforts on a bipartisan Iowa-based solution.

“Ultimately, it will take everyone’s help to step up the response in our communities, and the governor looks forward to finding solutions at his Nov. 4 anti-bullying summit,” he said in the email.

November marks the second time Branstad will host the Governor’s Bullying Prevention Summit to discuss the issue in the state.

But for one Iowa City high school that saw its fair share of racial discrimination in the 1980s, the current principal said today there are generally a relatively small number of bullying incidents at City High, 1900 Morningside Drive. He also said the issues that do arise are not taken lightly.

“The district has a strong anti bullying policy and then we monitor the situation to make sure it stops,” said City High Principal John Bacon. “We work very hard to be proactive and to take the matter very, very seriously.”

Bacon said City High has been successful in addressing bullying issues right away to nip it in the bud. Protocol for bullying incidents, he said, varies on a case-to-case basis.

“If there was a case where the student was being teased or picked on, we make it stop,” Bacon said. “We make sure that we work with the student that is the victim, that we listen to them. We want them to feel safe.”

The bill did not come without some critics.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said he thinks the bill is more about politics than actually trying to solve the problem of bullying.

“We’re currently over $16 trillion in debt at the federal level,” he said. “This is basically a state issue, and Congress is getting ready to fight over having to raise the debt ceiling yet again in order to pay for what it already has.”

He also said now is not the best time to start a massive grant program in the current financial state of the nation.

Iowa City School Board member Tuyet Dorau said Iowa City schools have been diligent at looking into issues of bullying, but there is always more room for bullying education.

“I think just bringing the issue to light can help children more readily discuss it,” she said. “Hopefully, then it can be addressed on a more systematic level.”


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