Public school bullies could face mandatory punishment under legislation approved by the Idaho Senate Tuesday. The plan would also offer more training to teachers and other school staff about how to prevent bullying, intimidation and harassment. It also says staff are expected to break up incidents of bullying.
The strengthening of the anti-bullying law passed the Senate on a 32 to 3 vote Tuesday.
“Parents expect and want their students to be safe when they go to school,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.
Current state law defines bullying as harming a student or his or her property or striking a reasonable fear of harm in the student. The changes to the law would make any person violating the bullying subject to a mandatory infraction, though it leaves what the actual punishment would be up to local school districts. Potential punishment includes suspension, getting kicked out of school, or being sent to a juvenile specialty court. The original version of the legislation would have made a third bullying offense a misdemeanor.
The legislation also requires districts to provide ongoing training on bullying for school staff and offer annual reports on bullying incidents.
Lawmakers of both political parties discussed the damaging effects of bullying in public schools, including their contact with parents whose students have been bullied. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said bullying is an important factor in suicide among school-aged students.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, was the lone lawmaker to speak against the plan on the Senate floor. “It seems like we’re trying to legislate common sense,” Vick said. He raised concerns that the legislation would create new unfunded mandates for school districts. “I understand that bullying is a big problem, but do we trust the schools or do we not trust the schools.”
Before Vick spoke, Keough said that strengthening the bullying prevention law, including the new requirements for schools, is needed. “While this is a mandate, it is something that’s needed to make sure that we’re adequately addressing the safety needs of our students,” she said.
The legislation now heads to the Idaho House for consideration.
Photo courtesy of David Frazier