BATON ROUGE — The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved legislation that permits public school officials to use physical force on students taking part in bullying and that protects school employees from punishment in attempting to stop bullying.
Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, authored the bill as a response to bullying and its effects on children and teens.
Milkovich said that over 14 percent of high school students have thought about suicide and that students were more likely to commit suicide if bullied in the past.
The bill would strengthen existing law, giving additional protection to those who attempt to prevent bullying, and to the victims of the act itself. Present law requires school employees to receive training on how to recognize, report and respond to bullying. It also prohibits retaliation against any person who reports the act.
The bill would authorize any school employee who witnesses an incident of bullying to “take all steps deemed necessary to stop the behavior,” including reasonable force, physical restraint or using law enforcement to remove the offending student from the school grounds.
It also states that employees could not be discharged, demoted, suspended or discriminated against if they attempt to stop bullying.
Witnesses at the hearing questioned whether school officials have the ability and the protection to intervene physically in bullying incidents.
The bill also would allow parents of bullying victims to move their children to other schools or to force the student accused of bulling to go to another school.
Sen. Michael Walsworth, R-West Monroe, argued that current school policy prevents physical interference by employees and questioned if school officials should have that power.
“Shouldn’t we be at a point where we trust our teachers?” Milkovich reasoned. “If a child is being injured, then I think the teacher should have the authority to break that up.”
Walsworth responded that while he did not disagree with trusting teachers, he was still unsure if the proposed authority was appropriate.
Donald Songy, the governor’s education policy advisor, opposed the bill. While he commended Milkovich for addressing the issue, he did not feel that the bill properly tackled the problem.
He also urged Milkovich to work with school officials and the Louisiana Bullying Awareness and Treatment Task Force to see what legal changes are needed.
Others witnesses, including Cynthia Posey with The American Federation of Teachers, and Sarah Mojola with the Southern Poverty Law Center, also urged Milkovich to work with the task force. They were both concerned with the reasonable force measures and felt that the bill does not fully address the complexities of bullying.
The committee passed the bill with the understanding that Milkovich would speak with the task force and incorporate it goals into the bill before it goes to the Senate floor.
By Devon Sanders, LSU Manship School News Service