Education Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-1138

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE STRENGTHENING OF SCHOOL BULLYING LAWS.

Vote Date:

3/23/2011

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/11/2011

File No.:

427

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Education Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

To strengthen the existing school bullying laws to address new technologies which result in “cyber-bullying” and to define parameters of school board responsibilities for the prevention and punishment of bullies.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE:

Substitute Language is lengthy and is on file with the Education Committee.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Attorney General George Jepsen spoke in support of the bill. He stated that bullying no longer exists solely within the confines of school. With the use of cell-phones, internet technology and social-networking sites, teenagers and pre-teens are more vulnerable to the dangers of bullying and harassment on one of the most dangerous playground: the internet. Technology makes students easily accessible through cell phones, social-networking sites and online gaming systems long after school closes. While school administrators cannot always control what students do outside of school, this legislation helps administrators control cell-phone and internet technology use in schools, teach children how to protect themselves on the internet and create a safe school environment for them to learn. The bill also expands the scope of schools' jurisdiction to address bullying. He applauds the bill's provision addressing bullying outside the school setting.

Senator Martin Looney, Majority Leader, spoke in support of the bill. He strongly believes that the potentially harmful effects to a child from being bullied in school cannot be overstated. Children who are bullied can suffer depression and post-traumatic stress, a general deterioration in physical health, increased anxiety, loss of self-esteem and confidence, and even self-harm and suicidal thinking and action.

Elaine Zimmerman, Executive Director for the CT Commission on Women spoke in support of the bill. She listed the names of several children nationwide and within CT, who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Bullying has lifelong consequences. Studies show that high school students who report being bullied are more likely to get less sleep, miss school because they feel unsafe, have property stolen at school, carry a weapon to school, experience dating violence, be depressed and attempt suicide. Schools can become violent, dangerous places where children feel unsafe to go and less able to concentrate and learn. The bill takes important steps to avert those negative outcomes.

Representative Mary M. Mushinsky wrote in support of the bill. She stated that adolescents can be capable of great cruelty without monitoring and guidance form adults and the establishment of rules and a prevention plan to protect vulnerable students. In the past year, the northeast U.S. has experienced suicides on college campuses provoked by malicious attacks on students' sexual orientation. In addition, research shows that students who differ from the norm are more frequently targeted--in particular, those with developmental or physical disabilities. The bill is a sweeping expansion and update with the important addition of cyber-bullying.

Representative Catherine Abercrombie wrote in support of the bill. She suggested adding enumerated categories to the bill, such as race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The category would add a layer of protection for all students and also align our definition with the federal definition.

George A. Coleman, Acting Commissioner of Education wrote in general support of the bill with reservations. SDE suggested several wording changes which were addressed in the JFS language.

Robert J. Brothers, Jr., Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities wrote in general support of the bill with suggested changes. He suggested “mental” harm be added as a definition of bullying and that an annual day of Safe School Awareness be added to the bill. Both were addressed in the JFS language.

Frank Sykes, Legislative Analyst with the African-American Affairs Commission (AAAC) wrote in support of the bill. He stated that each day in this country an estimated 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied. AAAC expressed concerns that students of immigrant parents and children with special needs may be most vulnerable. While evidence on the impact of bullying in immigrant students is limited, there is consensus that individual differences in behavior, skin color, religion and culture are strong determinants in who gets bullied, and who doesn't. He expressed concern with the reporting of incidents to SDE by school staff. AAAC would prefer to see a neutral, independent authority perform the function.

Michele Cruz, Esq., State Victim Advocate wrote in support of the bill. He commends the Education Committee for putting forth a comprehensive proposal that addresses the many facets of bullying, including the improved definition, procedures for responding to bullying behavior, training and education for school employee, opportunities for parents and the public to provide input and a statewide day of awareness for the observance of bullying. He suggested SDE establish a statewide toll free bullying hotline and to require each school to provide a “stop the bully box” that would be easily accessible, confidential and secure.

Senator Edith Prague spoke in support of the bill.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Lydia Post, Mary Hamula, and Adam Oelburg, all High School Students, spoke in support of the bill. They described how they were bullied at school and how profoundly they were affected by it.

Logan West, a 16 year old student spoke in support of the bill. She described her harrowing experiences with bullying because of her racially mixed parentage.

Jennifer Tyler, Parent of a young child spoke in support of the bill. She described how her 5 year old daughter had been bullied by several boys while in kindergarten. At 7 her child still suffers emotional and psychological scars from the abuse.

Debra Zagas Berman, Parent spoke in support of the bill. She described how her 14 year old daughter committed suicide partially because of relentless cyberbullying from fellow students.

Hardik Parikh, Father of a 6 year old suggested that the definition of on school property include school bus pick up and drop off.

Cindy Dubuque spoke in support of the bill. She spoke of how she suffered at the hands of bullies because of her sexual orientation.

Ray Rossomando from the CT Education Association (CEA) spoke in support of the bill. CEA supports the goal of the bill to enhance protection and to ensure policies keep pace with the changing technologies that serve as a medium for bullying as well as a framework that involves more school personnel in bullying prevention.

Gary Jones, CT Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spoke in support of the bill. Most young people today consider emailing, text messaging, instant messaging, and blogging a vital means of self-expression and a central part of their social lives. While the internet brings substantial value to young people both socially and educationally, it can also bring trouble. An increasing number of young people are misusing online technology to bully, harass, and even incite violence against others. Cyberbullying is ubiquitous, often anonymous, and can rapidly escalate and intensify as countless and unknown others join in. Students, parents, teachers and administrators must be prepared to handle bullying in this new age of technology. The bill recognizes this reality and properly includes cyberbullying in the state's definition of bullying.

AnneMarie Meacham Duffy from the CT Association of School Psychologists (CASP), spoke in support of the bill. She suggested that the communication of incidences and school response to bullying could be disseminated through both social networking and public service announcements on school access channels as well as more traditional methods, such as addressing parent groups, newsletters and student/local newspapers.

Alicia Woodsby, Public Policy Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT) wrote in support of the bill. She stated that bullying interferes with student health, safety and achievement at all grade levels. One in four CT high school students-and a full 35% of 9th graders-were bullied at school in the past year. Creating a positive school climate is an essential part of reducing bullying. This does not happen by accident. It requires commitment of staff, intentional policies and practices, and ongoing maintenance.

Lisa Tregoning, Program Manager for the Governor's Partnership to Protect CT's Workforce spoke in support of the bill. The Partnership believes that schools are better served by coordinating resources and ensuring science-based practices. They would be glad to serve as a resource for the safe school environment resource network.

Elizabeth Connelly, Communications and Media Coordinator for the Governor's Partnership to Protect CT's Workforce spoke in support of the bill. She read a letter from an Enfield student who was a victim of bullying. After four months of fear and harassment, and thoughts of suicide, the girl finally told school authorities. School mediation worked, but years later she is still affected by what happened to her at school and through cyberbullying.

Liane Roseman, Chair of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and mother of 2, spoke in support of the bill. She stated that she suggested definitions of bullying be added to the bill as follows; “bullying means the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic communication or a physical act or gesture, including but not limited to a communication or gesture based on any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic or association with a person or group with one or more of the aforementioned actual or perceived characteristic.”

David Maloney, Assistant Director with the CT Association of Schools (CAS) spoke in support of the bill. CAS strongly recommends the use of the best research and evidence-based practices for preventing hateful, hurtful, unkind and mean-spirited behaviors. The state should focus on a systemic program on positive school climate; starting with professional development, school climate surveys, data collection, action planning, monitoring and adjustment.

Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of the Family Equity Council wrote in support of the bill. She stated that over 42% of children from gay or lesbian partnerships reported experiencing verbal harassment in the previous 12 months at school because of their family composition, including negative remarks specifically about their parents. In addition, one third reported they had been verbally harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and nearly one third had experienced verbal harassment because of the way they expressed their gender.

Erin Livensparger, from Planned Parenthood of Southern New England wrote in support of the bill. She urged the committee to enumerate specific characteristics of bullying in the bill. She stated that research shows that students who live in states or school districts with enumeration laws and policies are provided greater protection across the board.

Dr. Virginia Shiller and Dr. Mikaru Shichi Lasher from the CT Psychological Association wrote in support of the bill.

The following people also testified in support of the bill: Dr. Jordan E. Grossman, Principal of Canton Intermediate School, Lisa Phillips from E. Hartford, David Knapp from Madison, Kimberlee F. Simko of Naugatuck, Nancy von Euler of Southport, Donna Shilke of Glastonbury, Richard Dellinger-Principal of Amity Middle School-Bethany, David M. DiCarli-Assistant Principal of E. Hartford HS, Charles Barrett of Farmington, Jennifer Carroll of S. Glastonbury, Tesha Imperati from the CT Family support Network, Erin Smith from CT Women's Education and legal Fund, Dorothy Adams-Executive Director of the Dispute Settlement Center, Dana Mulligan-Assistant Principal at Woodland Region High School, Debbie Kievits-Coordinator of Bully-Busters of Norwich, Kathleen Barrett, Jim Colandrea-teacher at Guilford HS, Patricia Burke-Director of Gilead Rehab Center-Middletown,

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities wrote in opposition to the bill labeling it as yet another unfunded state mandate on local governments.

Cal Heminway from the CT Association of Boards of Education and Chair of the Granby Board of Education spoke of his concerns with the bill. CABE expressed concern with the appointment of a “safe school environment coordinator” which could possibly diminish the principal's authority and flexibility. Also, demanding that local districts assign the proposed increased responsibilities from existing school staff will have expensive implications. While CABE is sympathetic to a more comprehensive bullying definition, they cannot support the fiscal, professional development, and prescriptive administrative demands that would be placed on districts. As written, it is clearly an unfunded mandate.

Jose Almeda of E. Hartford expressed concerns with the bill. He spoke of the difficulties his son and family, have experience as a result of his son being mistakenly labeled a bully. He believes that bullying laws are needed but individuals who interact with children need to understand the law and not just rush to label children as bullies without justifiable reasons. Administrators need to be held accountable and not be allowed to abuse their authority. He also expressed concern over the idea that his son has now been branded a bully for life and this fact may follow him wherever he goes in life.

The CT Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) expressed some concerns with the bill. CAPSS believes that some aspects of the bill are problematic because they embody an overly prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach that can be counterproductive in terms of teaching the goal of eliminating bullying from any child's school experience. The state should allow district the flexibility they need to develop and implement the policies and programs that have the greatest potential for meeting the state's standards.

Dale Bruckhart from Digital BackOffice expressed concerns with the bill. He stated that the IT management personnel in K-12 schools are unprepared to enforce the proposed provisions of the bill. They are not aware of the demands to be placed upon them if the bill passes.

Sandra J. Staub, ACLU-CT legal Director expressed concerns with the bill. She stated that the cyberbullying aspects of the bill unnecessarily, and perhaps unintentionally, runs afoul of the Constitutional rights of parents and children. The bill suggests that schools have the authority to invade the family circle to replace the individualized and disciplinary choices of the parents with the punishments of the school. This invasion of the family unit infringes on parents' due process right to raise their children.

Reported by: Dianne Slopak

Date: March 29, 2011