Updated anti-bullying legislation being heard in Missouri Senate

Cyberbullying, communication of policies addressed in the new bills.

In 2007, the Missouri House passed legislation that required all public schools in the state to draft and implement an anti-bullying policy by September 1 of that year.

Now, House Bill 458, designed to repeal and replace the old legislation, aims to increase restrictions placed on bullying by requiring that schools create and distribute an updated anti-bullying policy within schools’ student handbooks that must include a set of government-mandated regulations for how the school is to report and intervene in instances of bullying.

Bullying, defined in the bill as “intimidation or harassment that causes a reasonable student to fear his or her physical safety or property” or that significantly interferes with educational performance or opportunities “without exception,” is to be prohibited by students on school property, at any school function or on any school buses.

In order to effectively outlaw this intimidation and harassment, the bill, originally introduced by Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis, requests that schools include three specific components in their policies: A statement requiring all district employees to report any instance of bullying, procedures for reporting and “prompt investigation” of bullying, and a statement regarding the way the schools’ policies will be publicized.

These policies must be reviewed annually for compliance with state and federal law.

“Essentially, (the bill) requires school districts to have a specific process in place for how to handle bullying based on increased communication of what their policy is,” Allen said. “A school can have their own policy, but that policy needs to be distributed to parents, students and other school officials and reviewed yearly.”

Allen said the bill is designed to treat every student equally.

“Bullying is a big problem,” Allen said. “Some schools have policies, others don’t. There are schools at which parents and kids are told they have policies, but those policies are either not working or implemented and are not protecting the kids. So, this is really kind of a direction for how communication is to be had regarding bullying within schools.”

An updated version of older legislation, HB 458 includes specific regulations to prevent and to remedy instances of “cyberbullying.” Cyberbullying is defined in the act as “transmission of a communication including, but not limited to, a message, text, sound, or image by means of an electronic device.”

Bullying and harassment do not cease to exist after elementary, middle and high school. In university, workplace and other real-world environments, other ways of intimidation replace hair-pulling on the playground and sophomoric name-calling.

At MU, the University Equity Office works to promote awareness and to provide information for handling instances of bullying or harassment on campus. The office’s program, “Show Me Respect: Promoting Civility at the University of Missouri,” offers tips for thwarting cyberbullying, harassment and stalking.

Cyberbullying as defined in “Show Me Respect” exists in varying types, ranging from denigrating or putting someone down by posting or sending compromising material about an individual to others, to outing or posting or sending private information about an individual without his or her explicit permission.

The Equity Office said in a pamphlet that “threatening, frightening or intimidating in such a way that causes emotional stress” is a direct violation of Missouri State Law as well as the MU Student Code of Conduct.

Students who commit acts of cyberbullying from campus computers or while utilizing the campus wireless network will also be held in violation of MU’s Acceptable Use Policy.

For MU students struggling with harassment in any form, the Equity Office advises that victims should decide whether or not to respond, document all communications for evidence and report instances of abuse to MUPD, the Department of Residential Life or the Office of Student Conduct.

Additionally, the MU Counseling Center and 24-hour Crisis Hotline are always available to help students in need of emotional support or guidance.

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