Oregon House passes school bullying bill

Posted on 26 Mar 2009 at 7:06pm
By Brad Cain Associated Press

Measure requires school to designate a ‘point person’ to handle complaints

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon House members approved a bill Wednesday, March 25 to strengthen the state’s 8-year-old law against bullying in the public schools.

Backers cited a recent study showing that despite the 2001 law, more than 40 percent of Oregon eighth-graders reported being subjected to name-calling, bullying or other harassment, with the highest rates among students of color, girls and gays.

Among other things, the bill that won approval Wednesday will require school districts to establish clear policies on bullying and designate a "point person" to handle complaints.

The bill was sent to the state Senate on a 50-9 vote.

One who voted no was Rep. Sal Equivel, who said local school officials should be allowed to use common sense.

"We’ve had bullying ever since there were more than two children in the world," the Medford Republican said. "I don’t think you need the state to come in and tell you, ‘Bullying is bad.’"

But Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, said he’s heard from parents frustrated with school districts’ lack of action against bullies.

"For whatever reason, some school boards and school districts are ignoring the issue," he said.

The measure would set statewide standards for districts to follow in drafting and enforcing their policies and make the anti-bullying process available to parents, students and others.

It also would expand the definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying to include interfering with the "psychological well-being" of a student. It would broaden the definition to say bullying can be based on a student’s "protected class status," which includes race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or disability.

Because of the state’s money squeeze, the bill’s supporters earlier deleted a requirement that school districts track and report which groups of students are being targeted by bullies, as well as a teacher training requirement.

During Wednesday’s House debate, several lawmakers raised concerns about broad language in the bill defining harassment, intimidation and bullying as any act that interferes with the "psychological well-being" of a student.

"I see an opportunity for endless lawsuits," said Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem.

A supporter, Rep. Sara Gelser, said the bill aims at what she called the unacceptably high incidence of bullying in Oregon schools.

"Unfortunately, too many Oregon students are afraid when they go to school," the Corvallis Democrat said.

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