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House say "NO" to Bullies - "YES" to Corporal Punishment

April 17, 2002
By: Tiffany Ellis
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1726

Sponsor: Rep. Juanita Walton, D-St. Louis County

Description: Requires "bullying" policies

Current Status: Perfected by the House

Next Step: Senate Committee

JEFFERSON CITY - A bill passed by the Missouri House on Wednesday could make it easier for some schoolchildren to keep their lunch money.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Juanita Walton, D-St. Louis County, would require local school districts to establish written policies prohibiting bullying.

"Bullying prevention is high on everybody's list as far as violence prevention goes," said Russ Thompson, Associate Director of the Missouri Center for safe schools. "What we are trying to do in Missouri is integrate prevention programs into school districts and their curriculum."

Anger management workshops, character building programs, and teaching children how to build positive peer relationships are all methods that schools use to prevent violence and bullying. An amendment adopted by the House yesterday, encourages school districts these types of programs into their curriculum.

The programs help support bullying policies, which some think are too broad to do anything.

"It's going to be difficult to identify bullies," said Rep. Esther Haywood, D-St. Louis County, who co-sponsored the bill. "It's like harassment. What may be uncomfortable for one person might be love to another."

Bullying by educators was also addressed during debate. The House defeated an amendment that would have outlawed corporal punishment in the state's public schools.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights show that 9,711 Missouri students were hit during the 1997-98 school year.

"What I saw today was an inconsistency that we need to address," said Rep. Vicky Riback-Wilson, D-Columbia. "By continuing to allow corporal punishment in schools we are contradicting what bullying policies attempt to teach."

Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County, the amendment's sponsor, estimates that over half of Missouri's school districts still allow corporal punishment. Although the Columbia school district does not allow physical punishment as a disciplinary option, some area districts, such as Boonville, do.

Some supporters of corporal punishment say educators need it as a tool to deter students from misbehaving.

The bill was strengthened, however, by an amendment that would allow school boards to suspend or expel students convicted in juvenile court if their attendance poses a threat to the "morale" or "safety" of other pupils.

In addition, amendments were adopted that would ban student strip searches and create stricter punishment for students who make terroristic threats.

Supporters hope that by specifying terroristic offenses, schools will start to feel safer.

"The perception hasn't gotten better since things like Columbine - it's gotten worse," Thompson said.

Although the bill must go to the Senate before final approval, supporters are hopeful the legislation will pass.

"There's still a lot of concern about safety in schools," Thompson said. "What counts is that children feel safe so that they can do well academically in school."