DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers took up a pair of competing anti-bullying bills for the first time Thursday, months earlier in the session than they did last year.
One, heard in a House subcommittee Thursday, is the governor’s bill. The other, heard in a Senate subcommittee, is the Senate's attempt to address the problem of bullying in and out of schools. The bills are House Study Bill 525 and Senate Study Bill 3149.
Both bills give school administrators the authority to enforce anti-bullying policy off school grounds, both provide money for a training component to help school staff recognize bullying, and both have a requirement that parents be notified of bullying involving their children.
The differences boil down to definitions, money allocated for training and some other points that lawmakers in both subcommittees said they can work through.
Both are important to Jake Stallman, a senior at Tipton High School who says he was bullied in middle school for being fat, then later when he came out as homosexual to a friend by choice privately and, not by choice, publicly through Facebook.
He shared his story with lawmakers in the House subcommittee Thursday.
“The boys would treat me different,” said Stallman, who is now a wiry 6-feet, 4-inches tall and a member of the high school’s cheerleading team. “They would say a lot of ‘fag’ jokes.”
He said it got particularly bad in high school when other students threatened to “rearrange my face” and, by sophomore year, he received a death threat at his home.
“That was a terrible year,” he said. “That was a year my mom received a phone call, and it said, ‘Your son is a fag, and we’re coming to kill him.’”
Stallman’s mother, Tania McAtee, said she was proud of her son, who now blogs about his experiences on Matthew’s Place, a website named for Matthew Shepard, a homosexual who was tortured and killed in Wyoming in 1998.
McAtee started the group Tipton Against Kids Being Bullied after not getting satisfaction from school officials.
“He was coming home and going through a lot in school,” McAtee said. “I had meetings but follow-up calls were none. The proper progress, there was hardly any communication whatsoever.”
She thinks school officials dismissed it as “kids will be kids.”
She said it’s important the legislation keeps provisions allowing school officials to enforce anti-bullying policies for incidents that occur off-campus through social media and the like.
“Take a look at Jake. He was called out on Twitter. He was called out on Facebook. Even though you’re at home, you still have to go back to school. You still have to face those kids,” she said. “If you don’t have a nurturing environment, you’re not going to be able to learn. You have to be held accountable.”