Gazette Editorial Board
Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday announced his second annual anti-bullying summit, set for Nov. 4. He said schools alone can’t stop bullying.
He’s right. The challenge is more complicated these days because of the pervasiveness of bullying through social media. Unless kids stop using cellphones and iPads — and that’s not going to happen — they can’t as easily walk away from the verbal abuse as a previous generation might have endured in the pre-Internet days. Instead, malicious content spreads and escalates quickly and, as bullies are wont to do, often anonymously.
After last year’s summit, Branstad introduced legislation. It didn’t come to a vote in the House as some conservatives objected to a measure giving school officials the authority to enforce anti-bullying laws for off-campus incidents.
That’s a valid objection. First of all, school leaders and staff don’t have time — and shouldn’t be expected — to monitor every student’s online activity 24-7. And then there’s the question of whether school employees should be the cop for after-hours, off-grounds bullying incidents.
No, this is a difficult problem that requires the active engagement of parents, the community and police with the schools.
And that’s what the governor seemed to be stressing in his message. While he didn’t say if his new proposal for the 2014 legislative session will back off the off-campus authority for school officials, he signaled his openness to “improving” the legislation.
That’s good, though we’re skeptical about whether any top-down law can be very effective in reducing this kind of problem. Parents and teachers working together to educate their students, hold them accountable and help them gain skills on dealing with and reporting cyber bullies makes the most sense to us. Where school resource police officers are available, their expertise and authority can be valuable in sorting out mild harassment from cases that could lead to physical violence or even suicide intentions.
This challenge requires a sustained team effort at the local level.
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