A bill that would strengthen state laws about how school districts address bullying is closer to becoming a law.
HB 116 would require each school district and charter school to teach students about its anti-bullying policy and to inform parents about that policy. Currently schools basically just need to have an anti-bullying policy.
The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee today. It passed in the House last year. State Rep. John Barnes, D-Cleveland, is the bill’s sponsor.
“You can’t have a policy that no one knows about.” he said. “It’s extremely important that our young people understand what the expectations are in schools. In addition to that this works as an organization intervention because once a year, they would be required to go over this.”
The bill has been named in memory of Jessica Logan, a Cincinnati teenager who committed suicide after being harassed over nude photos she sent to a former boyfriend.
An amendment from state Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Youngstown) requires school districts to develop policies about cyber-bullying too. That was one of the recommendations in a U.S. Department of Education report on Ohio’s anti-bullying effort.
“The cyber-bullying [provision] focuses on the incident and what constitutes an act of cyber-bullying that is initiatied on school property” versus off school property, Barnes said. “It is extremely important that we distinguish between the two so that school boards are not unnecessarily involved in trying to monitor situations that are off school sites.”
However, the bill does not include a provision that gay rights groups have lobbied for that would prohibit bullying based on race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or other specific characteristics. (A separate bill, HB 208, that would do just that, is still pending in committee.) An attack on a gay student at a southwest Ohio high school caught on video late last year had increased pressure from state and national groups to include such a provision in state law.
Other recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education on ways Ohio could reduce bullying in schools include:
- Compiling state-level data,
- Writing a more detailed sample policy, and
- Providing more training for teachers.