This week at the Capitol, members of the public offered feedback on anti-bullying legislation that would set standard requirements for school policy across the state. The idea is pretty simple: Mandate that schools have an established protocol for responding to bullying and take the initiative to ensure that students and staff are aware of the rules.
The intent is to better protect students against discrimination and punish bullies.
In practice, it's a bit more complicated -- but will it pass this session?
"Who wants to be responsible for not getting protections for kids being bullied?" Representative Sue Allen, the Republican sponsor of the bill, tells Daily RFT. "That's gonna be my challenge.... Do you want to jeopardize the well-being of any precious student?"
As written, House Bill 134, full version on view below, says that districts can craft their own specific anti-bullying policies -- but they must have one on the books. And the policy must include:
-A statement prohibiting bullying.
-A statement requiring students, as well as district employees, to report any instance of bullying and a procedure for the notification of the parents of the individual alleged to be responsible for the bullying incident and the parents of the target of the bullying.
-A procedure for the prompt investigation of reports that identifies the principal -- or a designee -- as the person responsible for the investigation.
-A statement of how the policy will be publicized and a process for discussing the policy with students and training employees and volunteers in the requirements of the policy.
"This leaves the bullying policies up to schools, but what this is saying is, you need to have a policy and you need to communicate it," Allen tells us. "To the bus driver, the janitor, the teacher, every person who comes into contact with students.... And students need to be informed."
Allen references Ladue High School's so-called "senior list," a tradition that involves a list mocking senior girls -- one which got national attention last year -- as an illustration of why Missouri needs an anti-bullying bill.
"That's just one example," she says. "Kids are bullied every day. Every child is as precious as every other child."
Continue for more of our interview with Sue Allen and a full draft of the bill.
This her third time sponsoring the bill; the debates in the past have been about what is called "enumeration," which refers to specifying protections for specific groups of students that face discrimination, such as LGBT youth.
In the past, some Republicans have supported language that explicitly bans enumeration in policies -- which sparked opposition from Democrats who thought it was wrong to block efforts to make bullying against LGBT students a stated part of the policy.
It appears that this time there is no language barring enumeration.
"It would be up to local control," says Allen, who adds that she personally does not support enumeration. "Once you start listing...where are you gonna stop?"
She says, "No one...in my opinion is any more precious than anyone else."
Allen notes that there is no fiscal cost to this measure and that at a hearing this week, she only heard positive feedback.
"I can only hope and pray [that the bill passes]," she says. "I'm hoping three's a charm."
Here's the bill.