Bullying bill advances but need questioned

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Capital News Service
LANSING – The House is considering a bill to require stricter action against bullying in public schools
But some St. Joseph County school administrators say the legislation is unnecessary and won’t make a difference.
“Districts have been doing an awful lot about bullying anyway,” Three Rivers Community Schools Superintendent Roger Rathburn said. “But often times, when an incident happens, there’s a lot of attention drawn to it.”
The renewed call for anti-bullying legislation comes in the wake of the reported suicide of a 12-year-old girl from the Upper Peninsula in March.
Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, said he doesn’t see the need for the legislation.
“In my district, schools do a pretty good job taking care of those situations,” he said. “My initial gut reaction is things are fine as they are.”
The bill to require schools to adopt anti-bullying and investigate all bullying complaints was introduced by Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Lyndon Township. The House Education passed the measure by a 17-3 vote, according to Byrnes’ office. It has been sent to the floor for further action.
Judy Kuczynski of Minnesota, president of Bully Police USA, a national watchdog organization advocating in favor of bullied children and monitoring state anti-bullying laws, said the legislation is necessary.
“The thing that legislation does is provide a standard from which schools can develop their polices and by which they can be judged and evaluated,” she said. “It also gives parents some teeth if they’re having issues so they can hold schools accountable.“
Rathburn said bullying has always been a problem for his district and for all school districts.
It’s something that’s continually addressed, he said. “We have seven guidance counselors in our district. Bullying is a big reason why.”
Rathburn said incidents of bullying are sometimes reported to and handled by principals and other administrators.
“I had an isolated incident about a week ago that a parent brought to me,” he said. “We researched it and brought closure to it by bringing those involved together.”
Three Rivers elementary schools have implemented a Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative program to address the problem, according to Rathburn.
“It does a lot of work with treating other kids – and adults, too – in an appropriate manner,” he said. “It’s about behavior in general and how it’s impacting others.”
Rathburn said the program will be available at Three Rivers Middle School next year.
Bullying differs case by case, Rathburn said. It also differs depending on the age of the children involved, he said.
“Each case should be researched and handled,” he said. “At the high school level, the issue is that kids tend not to report incidents as often.”
Robert Olsen, superintendent of Sturgis Public Schools, said he doesn’t see the need for anti-bullying legislation either.
“It’s hard to argue against any legislation that are seen by legislators as protecting the safety and wellbeing of the kids,” he said. “But we already have legislation, rules and board policies on bullying in place.”
However, Kuczynski said it takes more than just rules and policies to adequately handle bullying.
“Some schools may have programs in place,” she said, “but without every adult in the building committed to watching, you can’t depend on the kids to stick their necks out and take initiative.
“You can’t just tell kids, ‘Don’t bully!’ You’ve got to have adults watching and intervening.”
Olsen said bullying occurs in Sturgis schools but that the staff and faculty handle it well.
“We’re on the lookout for bullying incidents all the time and we address them as vigorously as we possibly can,” he said.
Sturgis schools take a proactive approach to bullying, Olsen said.
The schools invest a lot of time in educating kids on how to be respectful of others and how to deal with others who may be different, Olsen said.
“We have counselors that actively go into classrooms and, with teachers, teach conflict resolution,” he said.
Kuczynski countered that’s simply not enough.
“Schools want to deal with these things on their own, and I really understand and respect that,” she said. “But they’re not doing it.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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