The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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May 3, 2014

Anti-bullying bill proves difficult for lawmakers

(Continued)

DES MOINES —

Mary Gannon, attorney for the Iowa Association of School Boards, said the biggest need was for training to implement new strategies on identifying bullying and intervening when necessary.

Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the Cardinal Community School District in Eldon, Iowa, said he's always intervened in situations occurring off school grounds if they disrupt activity at school and leave children feeling unsafe. However, he said it's difficult for school officials to know what action is appropriate without uniform guidelines.

"Without that legislation, there's still a lot of gray area ... and I think that was the goal of the legislation, to give administrators more support on their decisions," Pedersen said.

Branstad's focus on bullying followed some high-profile incidents in Iowa, including the 2012 suicide of a 14-year-old boy in western Iowa who had been bullied.

The governor's plan featured four key components: broadening the definition of bullying to include bullying on social networking sites; requiring parental notification in instances of bullying; granting school officials the authority to handle bullying cases off-campus if they affect students on school grounds; and training teachers and administrators on the best practices to respond to bullying.

Neighboring states have taken similar steps in an attempt to curtail bullying. In 2010, Illinois redefined bullying to include cyberbullying and later allowed for the suspension or expulsion of students for cyberbullying. Missouri made changes to its bullying law in 2010 to enhance the reporting requirements in bullying cases and include cyberbullying in the definition.

Hogg and Stanerson said lawmakers would return to the issue in coming years. They agreed Iowa needs new requirements, but said current law requiring schools to adopt policies prohibiting harassment and bullying offers some protection for children.

"There is room for improvement," he said. "There's no question about it."

Stanerson said he's hopeful the Legislature's inaction might compel schools to implement new policies and crack down on bullying themselves.

"I don't think there's anything legislatively that's holding them up from being more proactive on anti-bullying policies," he said.

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