April 15, 2005
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL BULLYING LAW
By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst
You asked for a legislative history of PA 02-119, “An Act Concerning Bullying Behavior in Schools and Concerning the Pledge of Allegiance.”
PA 02-119 (HB 5425) was originally proposed by the Select Committee on Children and was rewritten several times in committees and on the House floor. The bill and its various amendments were debated at length in the House over two days. Most legislators supported the bill but were concerned about implementation procedures, the bill's definition of bullying, and increasing burdens on school administrators and school districts. The House passed the bill with three amendments, one of which was unrelated to the issue of bullying. The Senate passed the bill without debate on the last day of the 2002 regular legislative session. The governor signed it on June 7, 2002 and it took effect July 1, 2002.
The original bill, HB 5425, An Act Concerning School Reporting of Bullying Behavior, was raised by the Select Committee on Children and referred to that committee on February 21, 2002. As raised, the bill would have required public school principals to keep records of bullying behavior among pupils and report to the district's local board of education on the behavior. It also required each local board of education to report annually to the State Department of Education (SDE) on the number of bullying incidents in each school. Finally, it required SDE to help local boards of education to identify bullying behavior for purposes of the bill.
The Children's Committee held a public hearing on HB 5425 on February 28, 2002. Among those testifying in support of the bill were Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Commission on Children; James Papillo, the State Victim Advocate; Jeanne Milstein, the Child Advocate; Shelly Gaballe of Connecticut Voices for Children; and David Warren of the Anti-Defamation League. Lisa Toomey of the Advocacy Group for Parents of Children Affected by Bullying also testified. Although witnesses generally supported the bill, several advocated extending it to require schools to have anti-bullying programs. Several commented that collecting statistics on the problem, while worthwhile, was not sufficient. Zimmerman and Toomey cautioned that both bullied students and schools would likely be reluctant to file reports on the behavior, leading to significant underreporting of the problem (Public Hearing Transcript, Select Committee on Children, 2/28/02).
Children's Committee Amended Bill
On March 7, 2002, the Children's Committee favorably reported a revised version of the bill to the Education Committee, by a unanimous vote.
The amended bill added several provisions to the original. The committee added requirements that (1) school principals develop a procedure for pupils, teachers, and other school staff to file anonymous reports about bullying incidents and (2) they also report to their local school boards on measures they take to reduce bullying incidents and their effectiveness. In addition, the amended bill defined “bullying” to occur when another “member of the school community” subjects a child, repeatedly and over time, to physical and verbal aggression, social alienation, intimidation, harassment based on racial or ethnic background, or sexual harassment.
Education Committee Amended Bill
The Education Committee substantially revised the bill and reported it favorably to the House on March 22, 2002. The Education Committee's vote was 27 to 1.
The Education Committee's substitute required all school boards to develop a policy addressing bullying. The policy had to provide for (1) anonymous reporting by students, (2) a requirement that school personnel investigate anonymous reports, (3) a strategy for school staff to intervene when they witness bullying, (4) language in student codes of conduct about bullying, and (5) notice to parents or guardians of bullying behavior. The notice had to go to the parents or guardians of all students involved in a verified act of bullying. It had to describe the school's response and any consequences that could result from further acts of bullying.
When the bill (File 379) reached the House calendar, the House referred it to the Appropriations Committee on April 12. Appropriations reported the bill favorably without change by a unanimous vote on April 16.
April 18, 2002
The House first took up the bill on April 18. Rep. Mushinsky, the chair of the Children's Committee, offered an amendment, House “A,” that eliminated the Education Committee's version of the bill and proposed all new language.
House “A” required all school boards to develop a policy addressing bullying. It defined bullying as repeated, overt acts by one or more students that are intended to ridicule, humiliate, or intimidate another student.
Each school district's bullying policy had to:
1. permit students to make anonymous reports of bullying to teachers and school administrators,
2. require teachers and other school staff to notify school administrators of bullying acts they witness and students' reports they receive,
3. require school administrators to investigate students' anonymous reports,
4. require each school to maintain a publicly available list of the number of verified bullying acts that occurred there,
5. include an intervention strategy for school staff to deal with bullying,
6. include language about bullying in student codes of conduct, and
7. require notice to parents or guardians of all students involved in a verified act of bullying. The notice had to describe the school's response and any consequences that may result from further acts of bullying.
The policy had to be developed for use starting October 1, 2002.
During debate on the amendment and in response to questions from Rep. Heagney, Rep. Mushinsky stated that, in order to be considered “bullying” under the bill, acts had to be repeated and extend over a period of time. She stated that a single act would not be considered bullying under the bill.
Rep. Mushinsky also said that the publicly available list the amendment required would consist of “a numerical count of the number of verified acts of bullying in the school in that year.” She also said that the list should be available so that any parent could walk in and ask for it. The list would not include the names of the students involved in the incidents.
Rep. Staples, the Education Committee chair, spoke in favor of the bill, saying that its goal was to tell school districts to “be proactive” on the issue of bullying. By requiring school boards to develop policies with specific requirements, the legislature is hoping to prevent bullying incidents that lead to school violence.
Rep. Belden also indicated support for the amendment, but raised the point that it did not appear to address incidents that occurred on school buses going to and from school. Rep. Mushinsky replied that the intent of the amendment was to include incidents that occur on school buses.
Rep. Newton raised several issues, including whether sports-related horseplay would be considered “bullying” under the definition (Rep. Mushinsky replied that it would not because it would not be “repeated”), whether the amendment would apply to teachers who bully students (Rep. Mushinsky said no), and whether a school board would face any penalty if it did not develop the required policy. (Rep. Mushinsky agreed that the bill contained no specific penalty against school boards, but she believed parental pressure would serve to enforce the requirement.)
Rep. Newton expressed concern that the lists of bullying incidents would add a further stigma to inner city schools that are already considered to be failing.
After a few additional remarks, the majority leader asked to pass the bill temporarily and the House went on to other business (House Transcript, 4/18/02).
April 30, 2002
The House took the bill up again on April 30. Rep. Mushinsky withdrew House Amendment “A” and offered House “B.” House “B” was similar to House “A” but added provisions allowing parents to file written reports of bullying as well as students, requiring administrators to “investigate” written reports but only “review” anonymous ones, and stating that the incidents must take place on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity.
There was extensive debate on the amendment that addressed many issues including questions about the definition of bullying, whether the list of incidents would include any identifying information about the students involved, whether there would be any penalty for school boards or school personnel who failed to report incidents, the types of investigations school official would be required to do, whether anonymous reports are valid, and the appeal procedure for those accused of bullying. Several legislators said the amendment was vague or weak. House “B” passed on a voice vote.
The House then adopted an unrelated amendment (House “C”) concerning the Pledge of Allegiance. Finally, the House adopted House amendment “D,” which amended House “B” to delay the implementation date for local school boards' bullying policies from October 1, 2002 to February 1, 2003. No one spoke against House “D” and it was adopted on a voice vote.
The amended bill passed the House by a vote of 133 to 6 (House Transcript, April 30, 2002).
The Senate adopted the amended bill (File 607) unanimously and without debate on May 7.