Right now, both House and Senate versions allow school officials to investigate and impose discipline for alleged incidents of bullying that occur anywhere, any time, so long as the effect is felt on school grounds.
February 27, 2014
Last week, the Iowa Senate and House Education Committees approved SF2318 and HF2409. Both bills are intended to reduce incidents of bullying and harassment in Iowa schools. We join with our allies in calling for increased training and funding for appropriate anti-bullying programs in Iowa. However, both bills will have serious unintended consequences for students and families if they are not amended.
We want to see sound legislation this year. We've suggested amendments to both bills that will bring them in line with the Constitution. Please tell your legislators to fix both SF2318 and HF2409 or vote against them.
To find your state senators or for contact information, click here.
As a dramatic illustration of the far-overreaching nature of both laws, consider that even if the alleged bullying incident occurs between siblings at home under the care of their parents, but has an effect at school, the law would authorize investigation and discipline.
In addition to not requiring that the bullying incident itself have any nexus to the school whatsoever, there are no time requirements that the alleged bullying be ongoing or even have occurred recently.
So alleged incidents of bullying happening at home, at camp over summer break, at Sunday school, at the library, a sleepover party, or on the Internet under the supervision of parents would all be subject to the school's reach.
The Senate version is the worse of the two, specifically authorizing the referral of alleged incidents to police. The Department of Justice has recently recognized what the ACLU has long warned about: The increased use of police in our schools, zero-tolerance approaches, and referrals of kids for school disciplinary matters to the criminal justice system are racially discriminatory, ineffective, and incredibly damaging.
Anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies should help eliminate discrimination in schools, not become another tool of discrimination.
Bullying can devastate children, families, and communities, with effects potentially lasting into adulthood. Bullying is a serious problem that clearly warrants a thoughtful, informed, appropriate response from adults, including policymakers. It is important for lawmakers to keep in mind that both children who bully and those that are bullied are likely to be highly vulnerable.
Iowa's Safe Schools Law was enacted in 2007 to protect students in Iowa from bullying and harassment. However, it has not been fully implemented to date and inadequate resources have been invested in prevention and training.
It's time to invest in the current law, not experiment recklessly with the rights of kids and parents.
Please reach out to your legislators and ask them to fix these bills before they come to a vote.
-- Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa Legislative and Legal Director, February 27, 2014