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Lawmaker: Expand schools’ responsibilities against bullying

A Senate panel endorsed a bill Monday that would expand requirements for school districts when it comes to bullying, intimidation and other forms of harassment among students, including allowing policies to cover incidents that occur off campus.

“Folks in our education system in this state, from all levels in our state, are calling for this type of legislation because it will make positive changes in allowing our districts and schools to have the tools necessary for bullying to end,” said Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe.

Schapira, who is running for Congress, said he introduced SB 1462 with the help from community members, students, school administrators, business officials, lawyers and the Arizona School Boards Association.

The bill would define bullying under state law as “any written, verbal or physical act or any electronic communication that is intended to harm or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm one or more pupils.”

It would require school employees to complete training to recognize when bullying has occurred and how to react and require districts to provide students with documentation of their rights. Policies against bullying could include incidents that occur off campus that are reported to officials and create a hostile environment at school for victims.

The measure outlines steps schools must take to inform parents of students who are bullied and parents of the alleged perpetrators.

The Senate Education Committee voted 6-2 in favor of the bill, forwarding it to the Appropriations Committee.

Some who testified in support of the bill shared personal stories, including Nicole France Stanton, wife of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.

“I grew up in a small town in Utah, and my brother was bullied in high school,” Stanton said. “He was ultimately severely beaten by the students who bullied him, and it was that experience that compelled me to take on the issue of bullying.”

Amy Alshuler, chairwoman of Anti-Defamation League’s Civil Right Committee in Arizona, said having districts add a definition of bullying to policies is necessary to protect all students.

“I know that teasing is just, some people say, a part of life,” she said. “But when it is persistent and unchecked, it can cross over that line and affect that student’s ability to succeed in school and in life.”

Sens. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, and Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, voted against the measure, with both raising concerns about the clarity of the bill’s language on parental notification but saying they could vote in favor on the floor if their concerns are addressed.

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