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Give teachers a whistle

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 11:19 a.m. CST

A student comes home from school in an Iowa town and is stonefaced. S/he has never walked in the door so silent and the parents are perplexed. Their child was bullied today.

In the 1980s and 90s, the student’s home was a sanctuary; a reprieve from the barrage of hurtful taunting. But in present day, a student gets home from school and shuts their bedroom door to get some peace. They log on to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and the abuse had followed them home. S/he could have been made fun of due to skin tone, religion, their clothes or their physical appearance. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter; bullying is wrong.

Since the independent documentary “Bully,” highlighting the life-threatening abuse of Sioux City teen Kaleb Gass, received national attention in 2012, the topic of strengthening Iowa’s bullying laws has been widely discussed by school districts and state lawmakers.

Two versions of a law aimed to help students in a fight for their dignity have been slowly making their way through the Iowa General Assembly this session. An Iowa House committee passed an amended version of the Senate’s bill on Thursday, weakening the measure. It strips the bill of language allowing teachers to report bullying that happens off school grounds which effects a student’s ability to function in the classroom. It also gives the teachers legal immunity if they fail to report a case of bullying.

House members may think they are protecting teachers from legal ramifications, but they are actually taking away their schoolyard whistle. The bill, although still well-intended, also stripped the Senate’s $1 million appropriations funding training and tools needed for teachers to take action.

The amended Senate File 2318 now will have to go back to the Senate to reconcile the changes, and it isn’t looking good. The legislature is already in overtime this session, and many Democratic lawmakers are doubting whether the changes by the Republican-controlled House will muster the votes. Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, told the Des Moines Register Monday night that he’s not sure the 26 votes required to pass the new House version exist in the Senate.

This originally looked like a bipartisan dream. It was a top item on Gov. Branstad’s agenda highlighted at the State of the State Address, and both Republicans and Democrats in both chambers indicated that they wanted to tackle the issue. So why the stall?

A failure of consensus on funding levels and the law’s scope isn’t going to make a bit of difference in the eyes of Iowa students who feel unsafe in their learning environments. It won’t be worth 160 characters to the kids who are facing psychological torment from continual online alienation after the school bell has rang.

Failure to pass a stronger anti-bullying law will send a signal of confusion to Iowa school districts and teachers, and it will zap the optimism gained by Iowa students earlier in the legislative session.

There is still time. As the representatives of all peoples of Iowa, old and young, state lawmakers should feel compelled to help their constituents, protect and teach the youth. State lawmakers need to blow the whistle on bullying.