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Lawmakers eye anti-bullying law

BY LILY ABROMEIT | FEBRUARY 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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In the information age, bullying no longer stops when students leave school, which is why Iowa lawmakers are wading into the issue to empower schools to tackle cyber bullying.

A bill in both the Iowa House and Senate will be moved to committees next week, potentially influencing the definition of bullying as well as how school administrators and teachers respond to harassment.

Although, the specifics of the bill have not been completed, officials said they expect to see cyber bullying added to the definition of bullying, as well as initiatives to better train teachers and administrators how to properly respond to it.

“We certainly have to address the issue better than we’re doing now, obviously, because of the technology,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville. “Frankly, it’s a good idea, [but] it’s sad that we have to have legislation … schools should be doing [these things] currently, but if this is a bill that will make them do it, then good.”

City High Principal John Bacon said efforts to increase awareness about cyber bullying would be helpful but difficult to accomplish.

“Certainly there would be some challenges there, but that being said, I don’t think it’s something we should shy away from,” he said. “To a degree, I’m not sure how realistic it is to take care of all the cases that are happening outside of school, but it’s important we take it seriously.”

Jacoby said one important element should be to educate staff members on how to handle situations that involve bullying.

“One thing we should do is train our counselors, because our teachers are pretty busy, so we should train counselors to be even more active with students to recognize [the situations],” he said.

Bacon said he supports additional training for all personnel.

“I cannot stand the thought of any one of our students [having] to deal with the fear and stress that goes along with bulling,” he said. “It’s something we try to keep in the forefront of our minds as educators and if the state identified some effective training for us to become better, I’m all for that.”

Although Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she hopes to see cyber bullying as a main focal point. But she thinks it will be hard to maintain control over situations happening outside the classroom.

“I appreciate that there will be a broadening of the definition of bullying so it is not so narrowly defined,” she said. “I would never suggest that students ought not be protected from bullying, I’m just uncertain of how effective this will be practically.”

Ryan Roemerman, the executive director of Iowa Pride Network, said conversations surrounding cyber bullying have built up for a long time, but for anything productive to happen, there will need to be funding included in the bill.

“It would mean you would have people who understand how important it is to step in when bullying happens … [and] it’ll ensure that when students report bullying, there is someone who is trained to react well … and ideally, that there would be a safety plan,” he said. “If everybody is really serious about helping the schools, let us actually show that by what we actually fund.”


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