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In the News: Branstad plans anti-bullying summit in November
Submitted by matty on Tue, 2012-08-07 09:47
from The Sioux City Journal.
DES MOINES | Gov. Terry Branstad plans a statewide anti-bullying summit this fall in the wake of a documentary that featured bullying in an Iowa school district and the suicide of a teenager who suffered harassment at the hands of classmates after he told some of them he was gay.
“We believe we can, and we must, do more” to prevent bullying, Branstad said Monday at a Statehouse news conference where he announced plans for the Nov. 27 summit.
Sioux City Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman, who joined Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds for the announcement, will be a featured speaker at the summit. The other announced speaker is Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” which was adapted for the movie “Mean Girls.”
Alex Libby, then a 12-year-old student in the Sioux City School District, was one of five children whose lives were chronicled in the 2011 documentary film “Bully,” which told the story from the perspectives of children who were bullied.
“It’s created some really meaningful discussions in our community because we have to recognize that bullying is not simply something that exists in schools,” Gausman said. “It’s in our shopping malls, our sporting events, our churches. I mean, we certainly have all kinds of challenges in our society, and the degradation of civility in our society is part of that, and so we must together work to figure out how to solve this challenge so that we are appropriately modeling proper behavior for our children.”
Experts say Iowa has one of the stronger anti-bullying laws of the 50 states. Passed in 2007, it requires that school districts report instances of bullying in specific categories and includes a category for bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation. Kenneth Weishuhn, a 14-year-old boy from South O’Brien School District in northwestern Iowa, killed himself earlier this year after he revealed to some fellow students that he was gay.
Data collected by the Iowa Department of Education, however, indicates that some school districts enforce the state’s anti-bullying law more strictly than others.
“I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Warren Blumenfeld, an associate professor at Iowa State University who studies lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues. “But it can’t stop at just a once-a-year thing. It has to be ongoing.”
Blumenfeld said it can’t stop just at schoolchildren either. He said kids could perceive that they have tacit approval from adults to bully other children — gay students, for example — if they see adults behaving in a similar way.
“When you have a political party trying to punish Supreme Court justices because they support gay marriage, it sends a message that it’s OK to pick on people who support that,” he said.
Branstad said school districts and the state should be open to changing their policies to address the law. The governor also said he wants to look at how districts could address cyberbullying that occurs off school grounds.
“I don’t know if anybody has the complete answer to that, and it’s relatively new, but we know (social media) has kind of exacerbated the situation, and it needs to be addressed,” he said.