Legislation would fine Missouri school districts for being lax on disciplining bullies

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(Missouri Independent) – Missouri school districts would have 10% of their funding revoked if they failed to report an incident of bullying under a bill heard in committee Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. John Black of Marshfield, seeks to use financial penalties to apply pressure to districts that aren’t pursuing bullying incidents in the way required by law.

“There are a lot of laws already on the books that try to keep bullying from occurring,” Black said. “But the laws that we have on the books right now don’t seem to be effective in some cases.”

Multiple Democratic lawmakers said that while they encourage legislation that would limit bullying, they worry the punishment envisioned by Black’s legislation could endanger already-limited funding for schools.

“What stuck out to me at first was that 10%,” said state Rep. Marlene Terry, a St.Louis Democrat. “Because most of the time we’re in here fighting for schools to achieve … and teachers getting raises. So we definitely don’t want to take anything from the schools because of the bad behavior of others.”

Terry suggested that expulsion policies are effective punishment enough.

State Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, a Democrat from Columbia, was also surprised by the language that would withhold schools’ funding. Steinhoff herself was an educator for 34 years before joining the legislature. She also served in the past as an officer for the Columbia chapter of the National Education Association.

“You cannot control behavior, but you can certainly attempt to guide students,” Steinhoff said, “I think that’s what our current bullying laws do: guide students who are misbehaving to make sure everyone is safe. I just think it goes too far with the penalty provisions.”

However, Steinhoff said it’s possible that some anti-bullying legislation makes it out of their committee due to Black’s willingness to revise his bill and the general interest in the subject matter.

An important piece of the legislation is expanding the law’s definition of bullying to explicitly include the use of “notoriously offensive racial epithets.”

Black shared an anecdote involving multiple students who bullied their classmate using such abusive language, which escalated to the destruction of the victim’s property and physical violence. According to Black, teachers and administrators at the school failed to act in defense of this student.

While Black admitted the law’s current definition of bullying would probably encompass the use of racial epithets, he said that it’s worth putting it explicitly in the law’s language.

But fellow Republicans criticized this addition for creating a subjective environment with an unclear explanation of what falls under the definition.

“This is a very wide definition when it talks about notorious offensive racial epithets. Who would be the arbiter of what is notoriously offensive?” Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho said.

With this legislation, Black said he wanted to remind Missourians that legislators are interested in providing a safe environment for their children.

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Quinn Coffman


Quinn Coffman is a reporter at the Columbia Missourian