E-mail update from Indiana Senator Tom Wyss (R-15th):
Senate education committee to review Wyss’ proposal toughening state’s anti-bullying law
Fort Wayne lawmaker says legislation focuses on prevention, intervention & reporting requirements
A Senate education panel is set to hear a proposal Wednesday crafted by State Sen. Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne) aimed at strengthening Indiana’s anti-bullying law and protecting Hoosier students.
Members of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development will consider Senate Bill 538 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 233 of the Statehouse. For those unable to attend, constituents can click on http://asx.ihets.org/senate233/live.asx and watch the committee proceedings live.
“Over the past year, cases of harassment, assault and even suicide have been attributed to acts of bullying among our Hoosier youth,” Wyss said. “I’ve worked diligently with various stakeholders and crafted Senate Bill 538 to help prevent these situations from happening in the future.”
Currently, Indiana law defines bullying as any verbal, physical or other act committed by a student with the intent of harassing, ridiculing, intimidating or harming another student. Wyss said Senate Bill 538 would expand the definition to include verbal and written communications transmitted digitally or electronically.
“Often advancements in technology provide opportunities for some individuals – especially students – to harass and embarrass their peers in new ways,” Wyss said. “I believe updating the definition of bullying to include digital or electronic communications is necessary so that school officials can respond to these types of bullying incidents appropriately.”
In 2005, Wyss championed the state’s anti-bullying law which prohibited bullying in schools, set up an education outreach and training initiative under the Indiana Safe School Fund and banned the act of bullying with the discipline policies and procedures issued by school corporations.
Wyss said Senate Bill 538 focuses on establishing best-practice methods for bullying prevention and intervention and creates new reporting requirements for local school corporations.
Establishing Best-Practice Methods
Currently, local school boards are allowed to set their own anti-bullying policies. Wyss said Senate Bill 538 would task the Indian a Department of Education (DOE) to establish recommended bullying prevention and intervention plans that school boards could choose to follow.
“Giving local schools examples of best-practice methods on how to prevent, identify and respond to bullying is critical to reducing the number of students who are affected by these horrible acts each year,” Wyss said. “The department’s model would also include how to address electronic or digital bullying that occurs on and off school property.”
Wyss said this legislation would also require school corporations to include details of their bullying prevention and response methods in their discipline and safety plan.
One in 10 Hoosier high school students were in a physical fight on school property one or more times during the last year, according to a 2009 study by the Indiana Youth Institute.
To help reduce this statistic, Wyss said his proposal would task the DOE with providing information and assistance for schools to create curricular and extracurricular programs on bullying prevention. “These programs are ways we can reach out to students and let them be part of the anti-bullying solution,” Wyss said.
Creating Reporting Requirements
Currently, Indiana law does not require schools to keep a record of bullying reports, but Wyss said he plans to change that with Senate Bill 538.
If passed, Wyss said teachers or other school staff who observe an incident would be required to write and submit a report to the principal. Wyss said the principal would then notify parents of all students involved and submit a comprehensive report to the superintendent.
“To create more accountability, this measure would also require schools to annually report on the number of bullying cases and the schools’ responses to these incidents to the Department of Education,” Wyss said. “The department could audit a school corporation’s compliance with bullying prevention, intervention and reporting requirements at any time.”
Wyss said he will continue to work with the Indiana State Teachers Association, Indiana Association of School Principals, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents and the Indiana School Boards Association to strengthen the legislation.
Digest of Senate Bill 538:
DIGEST OF INTRODUCED SENATE BILL 538
Bullying prevention. Requires the department of education to evaluate and make available to school corporations effective models of bullying prevention plans and to provide an appropriate incentive to school corporations with policies that encourage student participation in extracurricular activities designed to prevent bullying. Requires a school corporation to publish the number of bullying incidents that have occurred in the school corporation’s annual performance report. Requires a school corporation’s discipline and safety plan that is developed with parental assistance to address bullying prevention and response. Provides that the advisory board of the division of professional standards may adopt rules that set standards for teacher and administrator continuing education in the prevention of and response to bullying. Amends the definition of “bullying” to specify that the term includes verbal or written communications transmitted in any manner, including digitally or electronically. Requires school corporation discipline rules to include written reports of bullying incidents and responses to the incidents, and annual reports of the number of bullying incidents and responses to the department of education. Provides that the department of education may audit compliance with bullying prevention, intervention, and reporting requirements at any time.
Current Status: In Committee – first House