Bill would allow schools to police students off grounds
If House Study Bill 525 is passed by Iowa Legislature, school districts across Iowa would have the right to investigate and discipline students for incidents of bullying and harassment that occur off school grounds.
“A school official may investigate and impose school discipline or take other action in the case of an alleged incident of harassment or bullying that occurs outside of school, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity if all the following apply: a parent, guardian, student, school employee, or volunteer reports an incident of harassment or bullying pursuant to the school’s policy,” the bill said.
Washington Community School District superintendent Dr. Mike Jorgensen said he is leery of the district getting involved with incidents that happen off campus.
“The one piece that I am the most concerned about is the off-school-grounds piece,” Jorgensen said. “If with what happens off campus—it leads to something happening on school grounds, then I think we need to be involved, but if it happens, say, on a Saturday and creates an incident on a Sunday—that’s not really involving the school. Or the other piece I’m particularly concerned about is what happens if this happens in the middle of July. You know, once again, I don’t think that’s necessarily the school’s responsibility to deal with it during that time period.”
The bill also defines electronic means of harassment and bullying as e-mail, social networking Web sites, cell phones, and text messaging. If something happens off campus or on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, that comes back and affects students on campus, the district will get involved, Jorgensen said.
“I don’t want my principals to replace the role of law enforcement or parents for things that happen off of school grounds,” Jorgensen said. “I think that’s asking an awful lot.”
Mandatory training for school administrators on bullying and harassment and requiring schools to notify parents immediately if an incident is reported is in the bill as well. Jorgensen said he isn’t opposed to the training but is concerned with how that would be funded. Also, the districts policy is to notify parents if something happens, he said.
Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman said he first heard about the proposed discipline of students for incidents off campus from Jorgensen.
“I thought a couple of things when I read it,” Goodman said. “I think it would put more stress and strain on the schools and the police. Also, there are incidents that happen off campus where it becomes a (Department of Human Services) issue. It would be difficult for the schools to investigate things 365 days a year.”
The school district already works with the police department involving harassment of bullying incidents, Goodman said. First the district will investigate and if it becomes serious enough then that’s when the police department is called.
Washington Police investigator Shawn Ellingson didn’t like how this bill would require the schools to investigate when things happen off campus.
“I think it’s just ridiculous to expect the schools to handle this 24/7, especially if there’s a going to be a criminal investigation involved,” Ellingson said.
Ellingson went on to explain how the department investigates and handles issues with harassment and bullying involving students.
“Typically, we’ll get a complaint from the school and try to at least document that,” Ellingson said. “We’ll try to take care of it informally by speaking with the kids and telling them if they keep doing this charges could be filed if the behavior continues. Seventy to 80 percent of the time that takes cares of it. For the most part it all dies out.”
In the end safety is always the No. 1 concern when it comes to dealing with this, Ellingson and Goodman said.
Highland Community School District superintendent Chris Armstrong echoed what Jorgensen said about investigating incidents off campus.
“How do you suspend someone for an incident that happened outside of school?” Armstrong asked. “If there’s a connection between school and outside of school we act on it and have.”
He used the Internet as an example.
“If a student is experiencing harassment online outside of school but it begins to start affecting them at school, either by their grades dropping or inappropriate behavior beginning to happen, then we speak with the student and talk to the parents,” Armstrong said.
The school will also contact local law enforcement to investigate further, Armstrong said. He would like to leave the investigating up to them.
“On Jan. 23 there was an executive meeting with the governor and we told him we’d like the local law enforcement to continue to come in and investigate,” Armstrong said.