Additional requirements for school bullying policies proposed

The Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 25 on a bill that would require school district bullying policies to include certain information and procedures.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist10' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Wendy DeBoer'>Sen. Wendy DeBoer</a>
Sen. Wendy DeBoer

Current law requires school districts to develop, adopt and annually review a bullying prevention and education policy.

Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, sponsor of LB967, said the law does not provide specific guidance on drafting those policies, which could result in school districts leaving out key provisions.

The bill would require such policies to contain a clear definition of bullying and a clear statement that the school district prohibits harassment, intimidation, bullying and cyberbullying on school grounds, in any school vehicle or at any school-sponsored activity or athletic event.

LB967 also would require procedures for reporting and investigating any act of bullying and for ensuring that the parents or guardians of any student involved in an investigation are notified.

Policies also would have to prohibit reprisal or retaliation by any student or school district employee against any person who reports an act of bullying, provides information during an investigation or who witnesses or has reliable information about an act of bullying.

Additionally, the bill would require each school district to make its policy available to all parents, guardians, school employees and students in a handbook and on the school’s website.

Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, testified in support of LB967. She said social media has become a tool for bullies by allowing them to say things using an impersonal device that they would never say in person.

“It is crucial that our school districts have comprehensive policies that include cyberbullying as a behavior that can and will be addressed by schools,” Fennell said.

Also testifying in support was Andrew Aleman on behalf of GLSEN Omaha. He said a 2017 GLSEN survey found that the vast majority of Nebraska LGBTQ students had heard anti-LGBTQ remarks from school staff members and other students and that most had experienced verbal or physical assault while at school due to their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender.

“Most felt that they were unable to report, which further shows the importance of clearly defined policies and procedures when bullying is present and reported,” Aleman said.

Rose Godinez of the ACLU of Nebraska also testified in support of LB967. She said complaints from across the state indicate that Nebraska schools continue to have a bullying problem despite the anti-bullying law.

Godinez said the bill would incorporate several best practices adopted by other states, such as allowing students to anonymously report bullying and prohibiting retaliation against those who report it.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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