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Bill for bullying: Bill would require districts to have bullying policies

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Reactions to an anti-bullying bill are mostly in favor across the state.

The bill (HB 1147) requires school districts to develop a policy prohibiting bullying of one student by another. The bill is one of about three like it being tossed around in the North Dakota House and Senate.

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In HB 1147, "bullying" is defined as physical acts, verbal utterances and written and electronic communication used to cause fear or detriment to a student's physical and mental health or academic performance.

"Bullying is going on all across the United States and North Dakota doesn't have a present law to outlaw bullying," said Rep. Lyle Hanson, D-Jamestown. Hanson introduced the bill along with Reps. David Rust, R-Tioga, Don Vigessa, R-Cooperstown and Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, as well as Sens. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson and Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford.

North Dakota is believed to be one of only a handful of states without laws on bullying, according to Associated Press reports.

Bullying made recently headlines across the country and in the state.

Some groups call HB 1147 "Cassidy's Law" after Cassidy Joy Andel, a 16-year-old Cooperstown, N.D., girl who committed suicide, in part, due to bullying.

The Fargo School District reached a $300,000 out-of-court settlement with a former student over allegations he was bullied by classmates.

"It's (bullying) high on everybody's radar screen right now," said Rick Buresh, superintendent of Fargo Public Schools.

Buresh said it's unclear if legislation like this would have made a difference in that lawsuit but he favors the bill.

"I'm supportive of the spirit behind this legislation," he said.

So is Rep. Ed Gruchalla, D-Fargo. He is co-sponsoring another of the bills under consideration. With hope, he said, one of the bills will pass.

Bob Toso and Doug Sullivan, superintendents in Jamestown and Dickinson, agree.

Like Fargo, Jamestown and Dickinson districts are reviewing their current bullying policies.

"I think it's appropriate for the legislation to require schools to have a bullying policy," Sullivan said.

He said he appreciates the bill's language, which requires schools to have and enforce a policy, but leaves the wording of the policy to individual districts.

Toso said his biggest concern was cyberbullying -- in addition to pushing on the playground or stealing someone's lunch on the bus, students sometimes use Facebook, text messages and even video games to bully their classmates.

It's difficult for schools to punish students for cyber bullying, Toso said, since many times, it happens away from school and school activities.

Jamestown resident Lisa Wibstad is the parent of children enrolled in Jamestown Public Schools. She said her biggest concern is training individuals to handle bullying incidents. Wibstad said that without training, most principals or police officers are not equipped for the task.

"Having the policy is wonderful, but you've got to be able to back it up."

Toso said his concern isn't as much about training school personnel, but rather teaching students when and how to report instances of bullying.

Read the full version of HB 1147 at http://www.legis.nd.gov/ assembly/62-2011/documents/11-0412-01000.pdf.

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