Senate committee heard bill that would alter the state's bullying policies
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Senate committee heard bill that would alter the state's bullying policies

Date: March 17, 2010
By: Michael Bushnell
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 946

JEFFERSON CITY - A hearing Wednesday on a Senate proposal to change the state's policies on bullying in schools emoted strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, would change the wording in state statute regarding bullying, including adding "discrimination" based on "being motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender (or) sexual orientation."

It would also require every school district to issue a statement specifically prohibiting bullying on those grounds and require them to implement plans for reporting discrimination.

A group of lesbian high school students spoke to the Senate Education Committee in favor of adding the provisions, as did other representatives of homosexual student groups, along with an administrator from the Parkway School District in St. Louis County.

A.J. Bockelman, the executive director of PROMO, a gay and lesbian advocacy group based in St. Louis, said it was naive to think a mandate that just said "no bullying" would be effective enough.  

"We saw with the Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960s that you can't just say 'there shall be no discrimination,'" Bockelman said. "It's not just enough; we have to be clear and open about who is really being discriminated against."

He added that school systems that had policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of different orientations could protect administrators from lawsuits.  

However, Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, expressed skepticism of the bill. She said the state can never really know what people are being bullied for and gave a personal anecdote. In grade school, she said, she was bullied for shining her shoes every day, something wouldn't be covered under these provisions. 

Champion said she worries creating specific classes of discrimination would instead create a policy of favoring some aggrieved students over others.

"When you start saying 'these people are protected and these people are not,' it creates a problem," she said. "We'll never have enough categories. When are we gonna stop with that?"

The committee's chair, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the reforms face an uphill battle from here, seeing as how there are only seven weeks left in the General Assembly's session and the bill was only now introduced.

"Anything that comes up this late would be tough to pass on its own," Pearce said. "It's up to Sen. Bray to gather the votes up for this. Right now I don't know where the votes are."

Following the hearing, Bray went into a meeting and was not available for further comment before deadline. No date has been set for voting on the bill.

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