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Concerns over anti-bullying legislation

BullyingHeather Stancil
Earlham

 

While many Iowans support anti-bullying measures, I doubt many would support the anti-bullying bill that passed the Senate last week.

After reading it, I am deeply concerned about its removal of parental rights, the extension of school authority into private events and locations including the family home, and the potential increased liability this will create for school districts and a subsequent cost to taxpayers.

Given this, I am perplexed as to why this bill was supported by so many of our Iowa Senators, as well as our Governor and Lt. Governor. I am all for protecting our children, but forcing parents to be disengaged even further from our schools isn’t the answer. I wrote the below letter to our House Representatives, whom I now believe will be considering the bill.

•  •  •

Dear Honorable Representatives of the Iowa House

It has come to my attention that another bullying prevention bill is being considered for passage. While I applaud the efforts to help protect our children, I am deeply concerned about this bill for the following reasons:

Expansion of school authority from just school grounds/events to now include private property/events:

  • Schools are now allowed to monitor all types of electronic communications, including social networking sites, which are not under the authority or ownership of the school (p.1 lines 29-32).
  • Schools are now allowed to investigate and impose discipline on children for what they consider bully behavior at private locations and functions (p.2 lines 18-23)
  • Schools are now allowed to including bullying as a reportable event (like child abuse), and are able to bypass parents and report a child’s private behavior at private functions/locations to third parties for discipline, including community based agencies, social services, and law enforcement (p. 2 lines 34 &35, and p. 3 lines 1-2).

Usurpation of parental authority by giving school officials authority over family:

  • Schools are allowed to hide instances of harassment and bullying from both sets of parents – the accused and victim – if the school believes the parental notification would subject either child to rejection, abuse or neglect (p. 2 lines 11-15)
  • Schools are allowed to monitor personal student electronic communications on private devices and private applications like email and social networking while they are on private family property or at private family events (p. 1 lines 29-32)
  • Schools are allowed to negate parental authority over their child’s behaviors at private events & locations (including the home) by being allowed to both discipline the children once they are back at school for those behaviors, as well as report them to legal and bureaucratic authorities without parental notification or engagement (p. 2 lines 18-23, 34-35 & p. 3 lines 1-2), regardless of how the parent chose to handle it.

Creation of another layer of costly, unaccountable, unelected bureaucracy, by an unelected bureaucracy (Iowa Department of Education), to further a cause best left to local control:

  • Although it won’t come into being unless funds are appropriated, the fact that it exists will make it easier to push for in the future, potentially impacting future supplemental aid (p. 1 lines 3-8)
  • By having the DOE appoint membership, with no objective evaluation of expertise, there is an increased chance of bias in recommendations provided to both the DOE and general assembly for new law and regulation regarding bullying (Section 7, beginning on p. 4, line 18)
  • The work group allows data collection – of what or by whom? Who provides oversight of this (p. 4 line 26)?
  • By engaging only experts in bullying prevention programs, the work group itself begins under a biased assumption, as research now exists that such programs both don’t work and can even make the problem worse:

o    https://www.uta.edu/news/releases/2013/09/jeong-bullying.php

o    http://bullies2buddies.com/why-your-anti-bully-program-is-not-working/

o    http://www.boston.com/community/blogs/crime_punishment/2010/08/why_anti-bullying_programs_fai.html

o    http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/09/13/study-anti-bullying-programs-may-have-opposite-effect

o    http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/10/anti-bullying-programs-could-be-a-waste-of-time/

This is a very bad bill on many counts, the worst of which being a severe invasion of both student and family privacy, and a usurpation of parental rights:

  • Do we really want to grant schools such limitless legal law enforcement type authority over the family and the family home?
  • Who will provide the legal oversight and control to ensure this is not abused by the district, such as hiding bullying from parents to prevent lawsuits or open enrollment out to another district?
  • Who will prevent schools from using this new power over parents to threaten them via their children if they ever try to hold their elected school board or school staff accountable for something?
  • What kind of liability will this add to our districts, both for when they choose to use the power or when they don’t?
  • What level of financial or legal support will the state provide to districts if they are sued by parents so local property taxpayers do not have to fund?
  • What level of financial or legal support will the state provide to parents if this new right is abused by the school district so local property taxpayers do not have to fund?

Never before has Iowa considered granting such limitless power to public schools over the most private of organizations: the family. I understand the desire to curb bullying, but that is best done at the local community level, with parental support and without state interference.

Please do not pass this bill.