Districts must meet requirement to satisfy accreditation standards;lawmakers leave specifics of policy up to individual schools
HELENA, Mont. All Montana school districts must adopt policies against bullying, the Montana Board of Public Education has decided.
The requirement that will take effect with the next school year must be met for districts to satisfy accreditation standards, the board decided unanimously on March 10.
Districts are to adopt a policy “designed to address bullying, intimidation and harassment of students and school personnel.”
The finer points of the policymaking will be left up to local school boards.
They will receive from the state lists of recommended features for their new policies. One recommendation says policies should acknowledge that victims of bullying often are targeted because of their perceived vulnerabilities, which can include sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as race, religion and disabilities.
The issue of sexual orientation has been a particularly controversial aspect of the school bullying debate. Critics have said a bullying policy could be used to advance GLBT rights and causes.
“This is precisely a trap that the board is walking into, by bringing this on line,” Harris Himes, pastor at Big Sky Christian Center in Hamilton, said.
Others congratulated the state board for moving firmly to prevent and discourage bullying and harassment in schools.
June Hermanson of Montana Youth Leadership Forum, which helps develop leadership skills in children with disabilities, said school bullying often is directed at disabled kids. “It’s time that all of Montana’s kids are protected,” Hermanson said.
Representative Christine Kaufmann, a Democrat who is co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said policies against bullying should spell out the classifications of people the policies are designed to protect. But Kaufmann said she understands why the board declined to put those classifications in its order, instead making them only a suggestion.
The board did “what was possible to do,” Kaufmann said. “The whole thing would have been lost if we tried to set a single policy.”
The state board has the task of establishing general guidelines for school districts, said John Fuller of Kalispell, who is a member of the board and made the motion to approve the new requirement.
Trustees for local school districts may “fill in the details of what they wish or do not wish to include in their policy,” Fuller said.
The 2005 Legislature rejected a bill that would have required school districts and the board to “consider ways to address harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools.”
The bill died on a 50-50, party-line vote in the House of Representatives, with all Democrats voting in favor of the measure and all Republicans opposing it.
The Board of Public Education then took up the issue.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 17, 2006.