The Ottumwa Courier

Education

October 14, 2013

Branstad continues to work on bullying prevention

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Bullying prevention will again be a key focus for Gov. Terry Branstad this fall, after a push for legislation meant to help school districts combat harassment on social media sites failed during the last legislative session.

In a few weeks, Branstad will host a second bullying summit in Des Moines. The event will feature panels with students, educators and lawmakers discussing how to make kids feel safe at school. Headlining the program will be journalist Emily Bazelon, the author of "Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy."

Looking ahead to the 2014 legislative session, Branstad's special assistant for education Linda Fandel said the governor's office is considering taking another pass at legislation to toughen the state's anti-bullying laws. The bullying bill offered by Branstad earlier this year would have updated state guidelines for school districts to include bullying that occurs outside school on social media websites like Facebook.

But while the bill received subcommittee approval in the House it never moved forward. The exact reasons it stalled remain unclear, though concerns from lawmakers over student free speech and the logistics of implementing the measure clearly played a role. Matt Carver, legal services director for the School Administrators of Iowa, which worked on the bill, said he thought there was confusion about the legislation.

"I think some of it was that there was some confusion about the extent of the authority we wished for," Carver said. "Some may have interpreted that we were trying to give administrators authority to get into home life."

No recent bullying data was available from the state Department of Education. But in the 2012 Iowa Youth Survey, 57 percent of the sixth, eighth and 11th graders surveyed reported some experience being bullied in the previous 30 days. That number was up from 2010, when 50 percent of students surveyed in those grades reported bullying.

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