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Wisconsin stands up to bullies



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May 19, 2010 | 07:55 AM
You may be familiar with the adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." The truth is, though, words can be hurtful, especially to children. By all accounts, school bullying is more prevalent and severe than ever.

It is no longer just childish taunts or pushing and shoving; rather, it has evolved into threats and acts of violence, intimidating e-mails, libelous text messages, and even sophisticated Web sites created with the sole purpose of tormenting vulnerable students.

Schools should be a place for education and learning, not intimidation and physical, verbal, or psychological abuse. That is why for the last six years I have promoted school bullying legislation to establish a framework with the hopes of reducing such incidents. Previous efforts were approved by the Senate with broad bipartisan support, but failed to advance in the Assembly. However, a comprehensive school safety bill was offered this session, which included the school bullying bill. I am pleased to report the bill — Senate Bill 154 — passed the Legislature and was signed into law on May 12.

The new law will assist school districts in dealing with bullying without imposing costly mandates. It requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to develop a model school bullying policy, and a model education and awareness program. School districts may choose to adopt the DPI model or create one locally. If a district already has a policy in place, nothing more needs to be done. But if not, the law requires the local school board to either craft one of its own, or adopt the model policy. The schools may also observe a "Bullying Awareness Day" in September.

This issue came to the forefront when a Milwaukee television news station aired a story of physical violence on school playgrounds in Southeastern Wisconsin. In addition, more than 50 percent of 600 Wisconsin teachers and counselors surveyed said their school was not doing enough to prevent bullying. A statewide policy would help in those districts and provide guidance to faculty, school boards, and parents.

Aside from physical abuse, technology has increased the ways students can humiliate and mentally torture fellow peers. Web sites and blogs have been developed for the purpose of cyber-bullying, a new and growing concern. This form of cruelty is more difficult, but not impossible, to trace. The Internet provides bullies a sense of anonymity and may empower them to take things too far, leaving their victims even more defenseless. With the click of a button, rumors can quickly spread and damage the reputation and self-esteem of an innocent child.

The impact of bullying on children is leading to lower school attendance, depression, and in some severe cases, escalating to school violence or suicide. Often those who are bullied become bullies themselves, creating an unhealthy cycle. Schools must be a safe haven for children to learn and grow, not fear or be harmed. I am gratified this bill is now law, and hope it creates an opportunity to help students who may need it most.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882, or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457.

He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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