Legislation requiring school districts to bolster policies against bullying won initial approval Tuesday in the Missouri House.
The bill, which still needs to be approved one more time by the House before it goes to the Senate, would require school districts to develop procedures for reporting and preventing bullying, as well as investigating cases and responding.
That legislation is all but certain to pass the House and head to the Senate, where it has stalled in recent years.
Under terms of the measure, schools also would need to post policies for dealing with bullying throughout their buildings and give annual notice to students, parents and staff members. It also would create a formal definition of “cyberbullying” through the Internet and cellphones.
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The legislation has been introduced numerous times in recent years — and has consistently failed to gain much traction. But the bill gained renewed momentum this year following the vicious beating of a 12-year-old autistic boy at Liberty Middle School, with three state senators arguing that the school district didn’t do enough to protect the boy.
The bill was not without its critics. Rep. Mike Moon, an Ash Grove Republican, argued that students need to be taught to stand up for themselves.
“We can’t legislate morality,” Moon said.
Some Democrats criticized the fact that the bill would prohibit local school districts from including in anti-bullying policies categories of children protected from bullying based on things like sexual orientation, race or religion. Leaving out the groups of protected individuals, critics say, would essentially mean a statewide ban on any local policies specifying protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
“This is simply about local control,” said Rep. Judy Morgan, a Kansas City Democrat who tried to amend the bill to allow for enumerated classes.
Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, said the bill aims to protect all students. By allowing for districts to create a list of protected categories, he said, “the groups that aren’t on that list are not equal.”
Morgan’s amendment was defeated on a voice vote.