Governor Branstad Plans Bullying Prevention Summit for November

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Experts will give Iowans tips on how to combat bullying, including via the Internet and cellphone, at a special gathering this fall, the governor said this morning.

The Governor’s Bullying Prevention Summit will be Nov. 27 at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.

Attention on bullying in Iowa schools has escalated in recent months. A 14-year-old openly gay student from Primghar was bullied in the hallways of his school, as well as online, in the weeks before he hanged himself at home in April.

A Mason City girl and her mother filed a lawsuit in June alleging gross negligence by the Mason City school district in not protecting her from bullying in 2010 and 2011.

And “Bully,” a documentary released in April, features a boy who was terrorized aboard a Sioux City school bus.

Asked if the summit will touch on bullying based on sexual orientation, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said it would.

“That will be addressed, but that will not be the only thing that’s addressed,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly news conference. “This is going to be a comprehensive view of bullying and we hope by bringing in both national and state experts, and getting many different perspectives, it can be something that can be helpful to all students.”

Paul Gausman, superintendent of Sioux City Schools, who was on hand for the press conference, said the challenge of bullying in general needs extra attention, not just bullying of gay students.

“Certainly we want to work with our students who we identify as more likely to bully on respect for all of those around them,” Gausman said. “We want to work on developing that sense of resiliency within all our students, that sense of pride in who you are.”

Rosalind Wiseman, whose book became the basis of the movie, “Mean Girls,” will be the lunch speaker at the governor’s summit. At least 14 bullying-related suicides nationwide have been reported in the last year.

The state also has a new website, at https://preventbullying.iowa.gov.

Registration for the summit will begin in September.

It will be paid for with funding from the Iowa Department of Education, registration fees ($30 for adults older than age 22 and $20 for students) and support from the private sector, the governor said.

The governor’s office noted in a news release that the most recent Iowa Youth Survey of students in grades six, eight and 11, half of those surveyed reported being bullied in some way, and most youngsters witness the bullying of their peers sooner or later.

“Some people may ask, ‘Why is so much attention being paid to the issue of bullying now?’” said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. “Awareness is growing that what used to be excused as ‘kids being kids’ is more harmful than previously realized. Additionally, with the added threats from cyber-bullying, we can no longer discount bullying as a normal phase of childhood, or hope someone else will deal with the problem.”

Gausman said he has seen “Bully” 15 times and picks up more nuances each time.

“Certainly in the documentary you will see us fail one of our students,” he said.

Since it was filmed in 2009-10, the district has installed cameras on all its buses and launched specialized bullying prevention efforts aimed at different types of students.

Branstad said he’s proud of what Sioux City is doing. “We can learn from each other,” he said.

Source: Jennifer Jacobs, Des Moines Register, August 6, 2012