The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 2, 2013

New anti-bully proposal includes 'social media'

Associated Press

DES MOINES — The state anti-bullying law would be amended to specifically cover “social media” under legislation announced by Gov. Terry Branstad Friday.

The legislation, labeled House Study Bill 196, is the follow-up to Branstad’s anti-bullying conference last fall.

The legislation also expands the definition of bullying to include people who have “other distinguishing characteristics” and defines the difference between bullying and harassment.

The proposal specifically prohibits bullying and harassment on school property and using school-owned property, such as a computer, but it does not address out-of-school bullying other than when it defines bullying as an action that creates a hostile school environment.

The proposal adds an immunity clause for school employees who “promptly, reasonably and in good faith” follow the anti-bullying policy or who decide not to follow up on an out-of-school complaint.

The clause protects them from “civil or criminal liability relating to such effort or determination and to participation in any administrative or judicial proceeding resulting from or relating to the effort or determination.”

Roughly 1,100 people attended the statewide anti-bullying summit in Des Moines last fall.

The summit followed the suicide of Kenneth Weishuhn of South O’Brien High School, who was bullied after coming out as gay to his friends, and release of the documentary film “Bully” shot, in part, at the Sioux City Community School District.

State Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, had legislation drafted this year that would give school district officials greater authority over parents or guardians who fail to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment involving their children or charges, similar to the authority given to districts over the parents of truants.

Reached Friday, Hall said his bill, House File 143, is expected to be heard in the same subcommittee as the governor’s bill.

“I know they were waiting to look at the governor’s bill before discussing mine,” Hall said. “I believe they are going to discuss them both at the subcommittee and decide if they want to take parts of each one or just choose one.”

Sioux City School Superintendent Paul Gausman said he was “pleased” to see the proposal.

“I am particularly thankful for the focus on district authority to address Cyber-Bullying, as that is a relatively new, but extremely pervasive challenge,” he said. “Some components of the bill are already implemented in Sioux City, and I believe they make a positive difference. I understand that no legislation is perfect, but I am thankful that this study bill is on the table for discussion of one of the most important topics of our day.”