Wyoming lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill prohibiting public school staffers from bullying students.
State law already orders school districts to have anti-bullying policies that apply consequences and remedial actions against bullies. The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, meeting in Cheyenne on Tuesday, voted to specify that those policies apply not just to students, but also to school employees, volunteers and anyone who has contact with students at school.
Committee member Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, said she brought the bill to the committee because of an incident that occurred in the Cheyenne area.
“I had a family who came to me. Their student was bullied by employees in our district, and a lot of it happened on social media,” said Ellis. “They went to our board and said, ‘My child was being bullied by your employee’ – and there was just nothing. Nothing.”
Other committee members said they are uncertain if the bill is necessary at all because the law already specifies that “no person” should bully students at school, at school activities or on school buses. The law also covers social media, or cyberbullying, but only if the student receives the attack while at school.
“Theoretically, I agree with you,” Ellis said, adding that despite its encompassing language, the law hasn’t been applied against staffers in some instances. “It makes me angry and upset when I think that adults who should know better are engaging in this conduct.”
Parents At School Board Meetings
Tate Mullen, government relations director for the Wyoming Education Association, said his group is in favor of adding parents to the list of people who should be punished for bullying students.
“We think that would be a good addition given some of the things we’ve seen around the state,” said Mullen.
Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, asked for an example.
“We’ve had numerous reports of school board meetings that have gone sideways. And as much as we are all expected to have decorum in this room, we would like to see that same decorum in school board meetings and outside that setting,” said Mullen.
At a Natrona County School Board meeting Oct. 11, one public speaker called a substitute teacher a “pedophile” and a “groomer” because the teacher had spoken in defense of two sexually graphic books in the Kelly Walsh High School library in Casper.
Ultimately, however, the committee voted against adding parents to the list of people who should be punished by schools for bullying students. School districts still may interpret the law to include parents if they wish, since the list of people under the new bill is “not limited to” those people.
Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said adults are just as capable of bullying students as other students are. He said that his youngest son was the quarterback of a high school football team that started the season with an 0-2 record.
One Saturday morning the boy got a phone call from an adult, whom Harshman believed to be the parent of another player, saying, “You should kill yourself; you’re the worst quarterback I’ve ever seen.”
Hearing Harshman’s story, Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, shook her head in apparent disgust.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, proposed adding parents to the “laundry list” of people who should face consequences and “remedial action” for bullying students.
Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, asked how school administrators could be expected to impose “remedial action” and consequences on parents.
Rothfuss said something as simple as compelling a cantankerous parent to write an apology letter before regaining the right to attend football games or other events could be the remedial action.
Parent Suppression Fears
Committee Co-Chair Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, warned the committee that specifying consequences for aggressive parents could be seen by some people as an effort to suppress dissenters at school board meetings.
“We’ve got some parents who can be pretty abusive and being able to put some limitations on that is a help,” said Scott. “The fear I have … is not from Wyoming, but in some other states we have seen school boards attempting to suppress and get parents investigated as terrorists for complaining to the school board.
“And I’m a little scared somebody will pick up what we’ve done and think we’re trying to do that.”
It was after Scott’s warning that the committee voted down the amendment.
Bill Passes Unanimously
The bill itself passed with unanimous approval in a 14-0 vote. It also includes language compelling school districts to develop procedures for investigating anonymous reports of bullying.