By Mason City Globe Gazette
Parents should be paying close attention to what’s going on in the Iowa House.
Lawmakers are working on expanded anti-bullying legislation and at least one has suggested he’d like to hear your input.
Makes sense to us. Parents can be the first line of defense against bullying; the first to hear about it and the first to contact authorities. It’s logical that they have their say about what the Legislature is doing. And it wouldn’t hurt to consult with those most affected, their kids.
The new legislation extends school authority beyond school grounds, giving administrators and teachers the authority to follow up on incidents that occur off school grounds. It doesn’t require them to do so, but gives them the authority if they wish to pursue an issue.
Rep. Frank Wood, D-Eldridge and an assistant principal at North Scott High School there, said his district encourages teachers and staff to report bullying. If employees aren’t comfortable with handling the situation themselves, they’re encouraged to contact supervisors.
He said while some districts might be doing that now (including his), it’s important to make sure teachers understand what bullying and harassment are.
The measure is a follow-up from an anti-bullying summit held last fall in Des Moines. It goes beyond physical contact to explicitly include social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, whereas current law prohibits bullying by the more general term, “electronic” means.
Some, education lobbyists among them, are concerned about one part of bill that said the law is in no way meant to restrain what a “reasonable person” would consider political, religious and other types of speech prohibited by the Constitution.
“If I use my religion as an excuse for that, that is not religious freedom, that is not free speech. And how do you define a reasonable person?” said Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. “Obviously, we stand for religious freedom, but it can never be used for bullying and harassment.”
She is correct in her assessment, and we urge legislators to thoroughly consider this issue. Plus, it’s another area where public comment can be useful.
Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage and chairman of the subcommittee that moved the bill along, suggested parents’ input. We think it’s a good idea before the full House debates the measure. Parents and others with concerns about bullying in our schools should contact their lawmakers with their opinions.
In such a crucial piece of legislation that affects the protection of our children, the more input the better.