Some Iowa Schools Try New Anti-Bullying Policy

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) ? The Iowa Department of Education is instituting a new anti-bullying policy in select schools this year that it eventually plans to take statewide.

The move by the Iowa Department of Education follows a report by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that showed Iowa school districts, on average, reported less than 2 percent of their students had been bullied in any given year since the state passed its anti-bullying law in 2007. National averages are 30 percent of more, the newspaper (http://bit.ly/qmpeas ) said.

"Just mandating something isn't the best route to go," said Amy Williamson, an administrative consultant for data and monitoring with the department.

"We're not going to gain much by frog-marching them through (a new policy)," she said.

For the 2010-2011 school year, bullying across all categories went up from the previous year, but statewide, only 1.85 percent of the student body has experienced bullying.

The 2007 law requires school districts to record and report any incident of bullying, the reason for the bullying and any action the school takes because of the incident.

Administrators have four categories to choose from when they record a reason for bullying: physical attributes, race or ethnicity, real or perceived sexual orientation and other. Districts have the latitude to carry out the policy as they see fit, as long as they record and report to the state.

That has led to some significant differences in the reports coming out of school districts. For example, during the 2010-11 school year the 30,700-student Des Moines district recorded 98 incidents of bullying, including 11 it determined to be unfounded. By comparison, the 16,170-student Davenport School District, recorded 642 incidents of bullying during that same period, 198 of which administrators determined to be unfounded.

In Waterloo, the 10,000 student district reported 467 incidents of bullying, 66 of which were unfounded.

The pilot policy has 17 categories and includes verbal, physical and electronic bullying. Vile or threatening text messages are examples of electronic bullying.

The education department hopes to take the policy statewide in the 2012-2013 school year.

"This is something that needs to be paid attention to," said Cindy Winckler, a Democratic state representative and former schoolteacher from Davenport. "Bullying is one of the reasons kids stop paying attention in class, because they don't feel safe."

Winckler, who also serves as ranking member on the Education Appropriations Committee, said she could support a more comprehensive anti-bullying statute, but it must include training for teachers and staff to be successful.

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