Lawmakers approved a plan Thursday, March 15 to toughen up on bullies in Idaho public schools and to make the state's 115 school districts take a more active role in policing students who harass, abuse, and threaten their classmates.
The Senate voted 25-8 to pass a bill that would require educators to undergo professional training on bullying and to intervene if they witness a student being harassed.
The legislation would also make schools responsible for monitoring and diffusing bullying at any school function and in cyberbullying cases that threaten a student's learning environment.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, contends that tougher school policy is urgently needed to better protect Idaho students who are picked on and who may be a suicide risk.
“We want every student in our school and every student in our state to be safe,” said LeFavour, the sponsor of the bill.
Efforts to curb bullying have surged nationally in the wake of recent youth suicides.
In Idaho, the state Department of Education receives weekly calls from angry parents who can't get schools to stop their children from being harassed, according to LeFavour.
“It is one of those issues that whatever young people you talk to in the state right now, they'll say it is a problem,” said LeFavour, who is not seeking re-election but has championed civil rights during her eight years in the Senate.
Even with the overwhelming support in the Senate Thursday, the bill's trip through the chamber was anything but smooth. It's been amended several times and has drawn harsh criticism by some GOP lawmakers.
Opponents had worried that mandates to crack down on bullying may be inappropriate for homeschool settings, prompting lawmakers to attach specific exemptions for homeschool students.
Critics also argued that the professional development mandates could create a financial burden for schools and force teachers and administrators to address an issue some lawmakers believe is not that big of a problem in Idaho.
Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, opposed the bill and suggested whether supporters were “making a mountain out of a molehill” in some instances.
Nuxoll said it should be up to local school districts—not the state—to decide and enact anti-bullying measures.
Elsewhere in the country, though, bullying has kept a high profile: A federal lawsuit was recently settled over gay and lesbian students being bullied in a Minnesota school district, President Barack Obama is slated to deliver an anti-bullying message Sunday before the airing of Cartoon Network bullying documentary Speak Up, and a feature-length documentary called Bully is due in theaters later this month.
Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, endorsed the bill, saying it could potentially save schools money if it prevents lawsuits from upset parents whose children have been harassed.
“It would be pretty minimal if it prevents a lawsuit,” Brackett said. “At times that is the only recourse that parents feel they might have.”
The legislation must still get approval from the House.