Statehouse roundup, 2.25.15: Anti-bullying bill, and more

A Boise Democrat is pushing a new bill designed to strengthen bullying intervention in schools.

Rep. Ilana Rubel convinced the House Education Committee to introduce the bill Wednesday.

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Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

The bill states: “School personnel are authorized and expected to intervene or facilitate intervention on behalf of students facing harassment, intimidation or bullying.”

Rubel’s legislation also calls for schools to provide ongoing staff training designed to prevent and identify bullying. It also spells out a series of graduated consequences, from counseling referrals to expulsion, for students who commit bullying. The bill also requires schools to report bullying information to the State Department of Education and makes bullying violations an infraction.

Last year, Rubel spoke to an Eastern Idaho mother whose son committed suicide after repeated bullying incidents. Rubel promised she would do more to try to prevent similar things happening to other students.

Since then, hundreds of parents have contacted Rubel and supported her efforts.

“This is definitely something that resonates with parents everywhere and is very real,” Rubel said. “There is a problem with bullying in Idaho schools and it is something that impacts education.”

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Last year, 34 percent of Idaho students reported being victims of some form of bullying, Rubel said.

Committee members unanimously agreed to introduce the bill, but some questioned language, and worried about how the changes would affect students accused of bullying.

“I’m a little concerned a (bullying) report on a third-grader will follow them the rest of their life,” said Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls. “When they run for president of the United States, somebody is going to dig back say this is a third-grade bully.”

Rubel replied that bullying and harassment is already reported in schools, but that she hopes the new bill will be more of a preventive measure.

In other Statehouse education news:

Civics test. Sen. Jim Patrick’s bill to require high school students to pass a civics test is alive — but just barely.

The Senate Education Committee sent the bill to the Senate floor for amendments late Wednesday afternoon — after attempts to pass the bill, and defeat the bill, failed on identical tied votes.

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Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls

The split on the committee reflected the divided testimony on Patrick’s Senate Bill 1071.

Supporters echoed the Twin Falls Republican’s contention that a test will give graduates a better understanding of civics and government. Ada County chief deputy clerk Phil McGrane said the test could even help stem a “steady, constant decline” in voting and voter registration. “Something needs to be done.”

Lobbyists for three education groups said they supported the objective, but raised a series of concerns about the bill itself. Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr opposed the idea of adding one more high-stakes test that will be required for graduation. Karen Echeverria of the Idaho School Boards Association said the test will have hidden costs; it will take time to administer the online test, which will also consume computer time.

Patrick downplayed the idea that an hour-long test will be costly. And while he said the nation is facing a crisis in understanding of civics, he said most students will have little trouble passing the test. “This is kind of like getting a learner’s permit for driving.”

The bill will head to the Senate floor for amendments, at Patrick’s urging. However, he said he had no particular changes in mind for his bill — and once a bill is opened for amendment, any lawmaker can propose changes.

Parental rights. A sharply divided House passed a bill that asserts parents and legal guardians have a “fundamental right” to make decisions about children’s care and education.

The education language was a recurring theme in the debate over House Bill 113. Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said the language would encourage parental involvement — a key to results in the schools. “That is power to the parents.”

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Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said the open-ended language would allow parents to demand “customized educations” for their kids. “We don’t know how much this is going to cost.”

Rep. Ryan Kerby, a New Plymouth Republican and local school superintendent, also said he was nervous about the effects on schools — but ended up voting for the bill.

After the 37-31 vote, Rep. Janet Trujillo’s bill heads to the Senate.

Idaho Education News reporters Clark Corbin and Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

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