Gov. Branstad seeks to end cyber bullying

2015-02-11 | Ottumwa Courier

Feb. 10--DES MOINES -- Gov. Terry Branstad, First Lady Chris Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were joined by more than 100 Iowa students as they stood up to bullies by publicly calling for passage of the Bully Free Iowa Act of 2015.

In matching #EndBullyingIA T-shirts, students from the Cardinal, Waukee, Marshalltown and Sioux City school districts rallied behind state officials to call for an end to bullying.

"As [we] traveled the state last fall to hold anti-bullying discussions, the message we heard was clear. It's time for us to pass a bill to end bullying in Iowa," said Branstad. "Together we can pass meaningful legislation to give schools, parents and students the resources they need."

The new legislation will further protect students by allowing schools to get involved when cases of bullying occur from behind computer screen.

To ensure that students are adequately protected, representatives from Cardinal joined in a group discussion with a handful of state lawmakers. The diverse group of students brought personal testimonies and advice to help educate the state's lawmakers of what needs to be changed.

Of the dozens of students in the room, none of them raised their hands when the senators asked how many of them felt unsafe in schools. Instead, one student explained that issuing facing today's youth are much different than in previous generations. Cardinal High School junior Cheyenne Short said that today hurtful words and dangerous threats aren't verbal at all -- they are being posted online.

"Our generation has grown up with technology, and most bullying today occurs over social media. Our parents really don't understand because they didn't grow up with Facebook and Twitter," said Short. "They don't know about that stuff, but they have the right to know that their child is being a bully or being bullied online."

Several students pointed out that the growth of technology further equips bullies with ways to spread their hateful messages. Text messages and several social media platforms have made it easier for bullies to target students and send them a continuous thread filled with degrading comments.

Not only will the act provide schools with the right to stomp out different types of bullying, it will help keep parents informed. Parents of both the aggressor and the victim will be notified of the occurrence if school officials believe it will not lead to abuse or neglect by the parents.

"Bullying is a serious problem. Bullying is a public health problem that has a lasting impact on the well being of our children" said First Lady Chris Branstad, "Both students who are being bullied and the bullies themselves. Even children who just observe bullying and don't participate in any way report feeling less connected and less supported by responsible adults according to the Centers for Disease Control."

The Bully Free Iowa Act 2015 will empower students by launching a student mentor program that will give them the opportunity to build relationships with their peers while improving school culture.

"One of the things you have to build in a school is a good culture. I think that schools that are really making the difference are the school that are working on that culture, the schools that are improving that social and emotional learning as well," said Cardinal Community School District Superintendent Joel Pedersen as he thanked lawmakers for working to improve schools.

--Danielle Lunsford can be reached at dlunsford@ottumwacourier.com and followed at @CourierDanielle.