Lawmakers propose anti-bully think tank for state's schools

House Bill 1163, co-sponsored by State Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way), would require the formation of a work group to “develop, recommend and implement strategies to improve school climate.” - Courtesy photo
House Bill 1163, co-sponsored by State Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way), would require the formation of a work group to “develop, recommend and implement strategies to improve school climate.”
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Beware schoolyard bullies: the state Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction would create a group to diminish abuse and harassment at schools under a bill recently introduced in the Legislature.

The proposed law — House Bill 1163 — would require the state superintendent’s office and the state education ombudsman to assemble a work group to “develop, recommend and implement strategies to improve school climate.”

The bill was introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 13 and is co-sponsored by State Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way).

Miloscia was asked “to sponsor it, and I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “It sounds like a legitimate issue to set up a group” to work on issues surrounding school bullying.

According to the bill, the work group would be comprised of two state representatives appointed by the speaker of the House; two senators appointed by the Senate president and a variety of representatives from the state Board of Education; the state parent teacher association; and various local-level school board members, administrators and staff, plus community organizations and parents.

The bill outlines several duties for the work group:

• Decide what kinds of data the state superintendent’s office should collect

• Consider whether to implement a system where bullying incidents could be reported anonymously

• Find ways for schools to be safer and more respectful based on curriculum and “best practices” – or, policies that have proven useful elsewhere

• Recommend training programs for school administrators and educators

• Create recommendations for the punishment of bullies

• Collaborate with state community colleges to form anti-bullying policies for K-12 students who take classes at these institutions

The bill would also require the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges to analyze anti-bullying and harassment policies at higher education institutions.

Miloscia said that the bill was not drafted in response to any particular incident, except that it’s a good idea to keep bullying in check. However, there have been several high-profile cases of bullying over the last year involving gay students that have renewed concerns over the issue.

Last year, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student, committed suicide after harassment related to his sexuality. A 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of schools found that 84 percent of gay teens reported being verbally harassed at school; another 40 percent reported physical harassment.

The Federal Way School District has an anti-bullying and harassment policy. It outlaws students from harassing or bullying one another based on “race, color, national origin or ethnicity, religion or creed, age, sex or gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, marital or family status, military or veteran status, physical, sensory or mental disability.” The Federal Way policy covers in-person bullying — notes in class, a shove in the cafeteria — and electronic harassment through social media or cell phones.

Rick Serns is the Title 9 director at Federal Way. He oversees many district policies, including policies on bullying and harassment. Serns guessed that if a state-level group were created, it might have the effect of bringing all 295 of the state’s school districts in line with modern standards of anti-bullying and harassment policy.

“Some districts are a lot more up to speed to keep current on policies,” he said.

Serns said Federal Way periodically updates its policies. Just last year, he said, the district looked at its policy to make sure it included all current definitions of protected classes.

The bill has yet to be heard in the Legislature’s education committee — the first step to it becoming a law — and Miloscia did not know when that might occur.

“There’s zero cost, and it might help improve things,” Miloscia said.

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