June 26, 2014

Local educators: New anti-bullying law won't have much impact

Local school leaders say a new anti-bullying law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday will not have a significant impact.

Under the new law, Illinois schools will have to implement anti-bullying policies. Many metro-east public school districts already have such policies.

Grant School District 110 Superintendent Matt Stines said his district's anti-bullying policy is several years old.

"We have programs in place to identify, report and stop bullying when it happens," Stines said. "I think it (the new law) is just an affirmation of things schools have been doing for a long time."

Belle Valley School District 119 Superintendent Louis Obernuefemann said the elementary and middle school district in Belleville has an anti-bullying policy and programs in place. The CharacterPlus organization recently recognized District 119 for its anti-bullying program.

Quinn signed the new law at a Chicago elementary school. It takes effect immediately.

"Intimidation and fear have no place in Illinois' schools," Quinn said. "Every student in Illinois deserves to go to a school where they feel comfortable and safe. This new law is for all students who have been bullied but didn't know where to turn. Our schools will now set comprehensive anti-bullying standards for all districts so we can help students succeed inside and outside the classroom."

The law requires that school policies include a definition of bullying and procedures for reporting bullying and parental notification. The policies should also include actions that may be taken to address it within 10 school days. State education officials will monitor to make sure schools implement the policies.

The law, formerly House Bill 5707, was sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.

Four metro-east legislators voted in favor of the bill: Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville; Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis; Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea; and Rep. Daniel Beiser, D-Alton.

Voting against it were Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville; Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon; Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton; Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem; and Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.

Kay said Illinois already has a "number of anti-bullying laws in place that are very good. This one has some problems with it.''

The new law requires schools to collect data regarding bullying, analyze it and report it to the state, which he described as another unfunded mandate.

"I think local control is far better than state control," Kay said. "It's worked very well for a number of years."

The state often collects data, he said, and that's as far as it goes. "Once we get the results in, we do nothing," Kay said. "I think this is too much in terms of trying to collect data that won't be used for anything."

The new anti-bullying law also applies to charter and non-public schools.

"This was probably a step in the direction we didn't really need to go," Kay said. "I don't want to pick on charter schools and non-public entities."

The Illinois Family Institute, a non-profit ministry based in Carol Stream, Ill., opposed the legislation.

"This bill was completely unnecessary," said Laurie Higgins, cultural analyst at the institute. "All decent people oppose bullying."

The institute was concerned about the bill, she said, and how it may lead to bullying prevention programs that address homosexuality or gender confusion.

Higgins said the institute asked for one line to be included regarding students and teachers being able to opt out of bullying activities or training sessions that violate their religious or personal beliefs.

"They wouldn't even include that language," she said.

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