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Grading the state’s anti-bullying efforts

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 3:46 p.m. CST

Although the state gets high marks for its bullying prevention efforts, some argue state laws fall short of protecting our children.

The Bully Police, a national watchdog organization that reports states’ anti-bullying laws, gave Illinois an A- rating.

The high grade means Illinois meets much of the criteria for successful bullying prevention laws, according to the organization’s standards, said Brenda High, founder of the Bully Police.

High’s son, Jared, was bullied in school and later committed suicide. High filed a lawsuit against Jared’s school for failing to protect her son. One thing became evident during court proceedings, she said.

“We noticed during the depositions that [schools] really didn’t have a clue about what to do,” High said. “There was no policy; there was no procedure; there was no law.”

And so the Bully Police was born. High was instrumental in getting bully legislation passed in her home state of Washington, and since has been tracking the progress of bullying laws across the U.S.

All but one state, Montana, have bullying laws on the books. Some state laws are better than others. The highest grade issued is an A++, earned by 13 states.

Illinois’ A- means the state has a clearly defined bullying law and offers recommendations on how to enforce said laws, High said. The law addresses cyberbullying, earning it higher marks.

Keeping the state from a perfect score, High said, is a lack of programs for bullied children and clearly defined reporting criteria.

“A good law involves school administration on all levels,” High said.

Stricter statewide anti-bullying legislation failed this year amid conservative groups’ fears that it would indoctrinate students and embrace homosexuality.

The law was sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, an openly gay lawmaker.

“I found a lot of the objections to the bill really disingenuous,” Cassidy said. “It was described as being a homosexual [agenda]. Emails [from opposition] cited the fact that I’m openly gay.

“... Apparently my interest in mortgage foreclosure reform is also part of the gay agenda.”

The bill would have required schools to adopt more detailed anti-bullying policies.

As it is written now, Illinois’ law “lacks uniformity and responsibility on all school districts,” Cassidy said. “In my opinion, a one-line policy is not one.”

Conservative groups also demanded an “opt-out” provision for anti-bullying programs if a program is against a students’ moral or personal beliefs.

“[Illinois State Board of Education], as a supporter of local decision-making, was disappointed to see the bill fail as school administrators already allow students to opt-out or attend alternative activities when an activity of the school day is against their moral or personal beliefs,” ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

The measure lost by one vote. It needed 30 votes to pass but received only 29, with 12 senators voting “no” and 12 voting “present.”

“It was stunning,” Cassidy said.

The Illinois Prevent School Violence Act in 2010 expanded bullying laws and created the Bullying Prevention Task Force, of which the ISBE was an integral part.

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