Legislation aims to help curb bullying

Juneau schools have already taken action

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006

It may be the school bullies who have to watch their backs in 2007.

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House Bill 482, "An act relating to harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools," was introduced to the House Special Committee on Education on Thursday morning. Sponsored by Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, the bill allows schools to create anti-bullying policies to create safe and healthy learning environments in classrooms from Alaska.

"It's a very good thing for our students and I just hope they can learn in a very safe learning environment," legislative aide Crystal Novotney, who introduced the bill on behalf of Anderson, told the committee.

Some districts have acted already. Juneau School District's harassment policy covers bullying.

The bill would give schools the option of adopting a policy by July 1, 2007, to curb violence and intimidation in schools. It also would suggest that schools report any bullying activity to the Department of Education and Early Development by each January 31 beginning with the 2007-2008 school year. It also shields students, school employees and volunteers from reprisals or from lawsuits if they report such activity.

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"A lot of time what happens in schools is they turn their other cheek, basically," Novotney, said. "They understand that it's happening but the big debate is, 'Well kids will be kids.'"

The bill defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as an "intentional written, oral, or physical act" that causes physical harm, interferes with education, creates a threatening environment, or disrupts school operations.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said there are laws on the books that already protect students.

"This is another layer of paperwork that needs to be done that takes away the time of teaching basic subjects and also takes away the time supervising student behavior, which includes bullying," Lynn said.

National Education Association-Alaska Executive Director Tom Harvey testified before the committee, saying the bill provides a mechanism by which a school can produce a better climate for students to learn and teachers to teach. He said the bill would help because some schools in Alaska are getting failing grades under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, unable to meet the attendance requirements.

"Students stay home because they are bullied," Harvey said. "They stay home, they miss attendance schedules and we have a failing school under No Child Left Behind. That is not appropriate."

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, questioned whether a certain amount of bullying is actually beneficial to a student's success.

"Is there a part of growing up where you have to have conflict or you won't tolerate society?" he said.

Sara Vitaska, a policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the committee that 21 states have enacted anti-bullying legislation and at least 24 states introduced similar legislation in the 2005-2006 session.

With Lynn dissenting, the committee voted 4-1 to move the bill to the Health, Education and Social Services Committee. Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Chalkyitsik, were absent.

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