HSLDA Opposes Anti-Bullying Bill

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Working Word.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 12, 2015.

HSLDA Opposes Anti-Bullying Bill is actually the title of HSLDA’s own article on a bill currently before the Iowa legislature. At least they’re being honest about it, I suppose? We’ve talked before about the ways the Home School Legal Defense Association’s lobbying veers out into topics that have nothing to do with homeschooling, but honestly, this case is out there even for them. Let’s have a look, shall we?

HSLDA opposes the anti-bullying bill now pending in the Iowa Legislature, SF 345, because of the breathtakingly broad authority it gives school officials off school grounds.

If the bill were only about running the public schools, HSLDA would probably stay on the sidelines. However, the bill is not just about running the public schools. It gives power to public schools to call law enforcement agencies, social workers, etc., if they believe any person has bullied a public school student.

So let’s get this straight. The “breathtakingly broad authority” the bill gives school officials is the “power . . . to call law enforcement agencies, social workers, etc., if they believe any person has bullied a public school student.” The bill doesn’t add anything to the criminal code. The bill is about school discipline. Yes, it states that school officials may call law enforcement or social services about incidents that occur off of school property, but that’s literally it. That doesn’t sound either “breathtaking” or “broad.”

Legal Changes

Section 5 of the bill would create a new subsection of Iowa Code section 282.28. It would be labeled as subsection 9.

Paragraph (a), the first paragraph of subsection 9, only allows schools to punish public school students. Paragraph (a) is not uniquely problematic for homeschool families.

But the second paragraph of subsection 9, paragraph (b), operates completely independently of subsection (a). Paragraph (b) contains no limits whatsoever as to whom the school can punish for bullying. It could be a homeschool student, a private school student, or any adult.

Actually, as we’ll see in a moment, this is wrong. Subsection 9, paragraph (b) is in fact dependent on subsection 9, paragraph (a). They go together, and there are limits. But there’s something else weird going on here.

The punishment in that case would be the school “referring” the matter to law enforcement, social workers, and other vaguely defined agencies. If you don’t think being investigated, intimidated, accused, or pressured by law enforcement or social workers is “punishment,” you have probably never been through it.

So wait a minute. Our legal process is designed to determine who has transgressed the law and what punishment is necessary for those who are convicted. But here, HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff is saying that the legal process itself is punishment. Look, I get that law enforcement can be corrupt or inept, and I get that disadvantaged populations may even find themselves exploited by the police, but the argument Woodruff is making is simply untenable.

But wait. Why would these individuals be reported to law enforcement to begin with?

Facing Allegations

And while paragraph (a) only gives the school power to mete out punishment if the bullying is “founded,” paragraph (b) allows the school to initiate punishment if the bullying is merely alleged. So based on nothing more than an allegation, someone with no connection with a public school could find a policeman, social worker, and others knocking at his door to investigate him.

SF 345 gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated. This is inappropriate and unwise. Therefore HSLDA opposes the bill.

HSLDA has veered into serious conspiracy territory here.

Let’s look at the bill text itself for a moment.

9. Authority off school grounds. 

a. A school official may investigate and impose school discipline in a founded case 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 of the following apply:

(1) An incident of harassment or bullying is reported pursuant to the school’s policy adopted under subsection 3, paragraph “e”.

(2) The alleged incident of harassment or bullying has an effect on a student on school grounds that creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the conditions set out under subsection 2, paragraph “b”.

b. A school official’s investigation and response to an alleged incident of bullying or harassment that occurs outside of school, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity may include referring the matter to appropriate community-based agencies including but not limited to social services agencies, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

Paragraph (b) cannot operate independently of paragraph (a) because it is about the investigation process outlined in paragraph (a). Without paragraph (a), paragraph (b) cannot function. In other words, what this section says is that if an incident of harassment or bullying off of school property results in a hostile school environment for a student, the school has the authority to investigate the off-campus incident and impose school discipline accordingly—and that their investigation and response may involve contacting social services or law enforcement. That is quite literally it.

HSLDA points out that paragraph (a) specifies that school discipline can be imposed in “founded” cases of harassment or bullying, but that paragraph (b) does not use the word “founded.” But paragraph (b) is crystal clear that reporting such cases may be part of schools’ “investigation and response” to incidences of bullying and harassment that take place off of school property and create an objectively hostile school environment. This isn’t insidious, it’s smart policy. Sometimes law enforcement will be best equipped to investigate these situations.

I cannot for the life of me understand how HSLDA takes this benign provision and comes away with the conclusion that the bill “gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated.” Look, in order to create “an objectively hostile school environment,” an incident of harassment or bullying that occurs off of school property will likely involve another student. In other words, this isn’t about homeschooled students. It’s about kids bullied by fellow students off of school property.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that a homeschooled child manages to bully and harass a public school student to the point that that student’s “school environment” becomes “objectively hostile. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for this situation to be reported to law enforcement or social services, if the circumstances warranted it? Is this seriously what HSLDA is opposing here? Are they honestly arguing that homeschooled students have a right to not be reported to law enforcement for harassment and bullying that trumps public schooled students’ right to not be harassed and bullied? For real?!

Let’s look at how the existing law defines “hostile school environment”:

b. “Harassment” and “bullying” shall be construed to mean any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

(1) Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.

(2) Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health.

(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance.

(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

This is the section referred to in section 9, paragraph (a). It should be fairly clear at this point why the school making a report to law enforcement or social services might well be warranted if incidences of harassment or bullying off of school property were creating a hostile school environment for a child, as defined above. I mean good gracious, “an objectively hostile school environment” can mean an environment which “places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.”

I have to say, I am really bothered by the idea that reporting an incident of bullying or harassment to law enforcement or social services is some sort of terrible unwarranted punishment. I have friends who got death threats this week, over the internet. They reported these threats to the relevant law enforcement—and they were right to do so. It’s as though HSLDA thinks it’s reporting someone for bullying or harassment that is the real bullying or harassment.

Let’s look at HSLDA’s last line again:

SF 345 gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated. This is inappropriate and unwise. Therefore HSLDA opposes the bill.

You know, HSLDA is against mandatory universal reporting of child abuse for the same reason—they see being reported for child abuse or neglect as such a horrific experience that they would prefer depressed rates of reporting to save innocent families from being investigated even if it means some cases of actual child abuse and neglect go unreported. This is not how our legal system is supposed to work! The entire point of our legal system is to determine who is innocent and who is guilty!

Do you know what’s worse than innocent people being investigated and then cleared of all allegations? Abusers and harassers going unreported because reporting abuse is seen as worse than abuse.

My daughter is in public school. I would like to know that if a student from school is harassing her off of school grounds, the school would step in and do something about it—including calling law enforcement or social services if necessary. How HSLDA can take such an important bill and turn it into a threat to homeschoolers is utterly beyond me. What it comes down to is this: HSLDA is upset that schools may report cases of bullying or harassment that occur off of school property to law enforcement or social services. This is utterly reprehensible.

3 comments

  • I saw their post on this and came to the same conclusion as you. Here’s what I think of their motives with this conspiracy. I think HSLDA is afraid a right-wing fundamentalist child (who homeschools) will “preach against gays” (translation: bully gay kids) and that child could be reported and investigated. This is their attempt at “protecting families” who “preach their gospel” (GAG, that’s NOT the Gospel). Because they have an anti-gay agenda. As a Christ follower AND as a home educator, I strongly OPPOSE HSLDA’s agenda. They do NOT represent my Christ nor do they represent my home education. I support the Bill. It protects all kids. EVEN homeschool kids who would get bullied before or after school hours.

  • I suspect HSLDA (not to put words in their mouth) doesn’t want annoyed/hurt feelings to become a felony at the behest of Mrs. Thomas, the phys-ed substitute. I kinda get it. In our current climate, being falsely accused of child abuse or bullying is absolutely vicious. But as quickly as accusation springs up, the truth arrives as well. Twitter works both ways.

    But surely HSLDA knows it’s *already* illegal to hit/harass/intimidate most non-public figures. Whether you’re a kid or not (in school or not), it’s already illegal to run up to you and scream horrible threats at you. Or threaten someone’s family on Facebook. Or hit people. There’s a reason “disturbing the peace” is kinda broad.

    No worries, HSLDA: You, me, or anyone (school teacher/admin, etc.) could already do what the anti-bullying bill states.

  • Here’s one thing I don’t want more of: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/04/kindergartener-cuffed-after-tantrum-in-principals-office/

    But here’s another thing I don’t want: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/05/josh-pacheco-gay-michigan-teen-suicide-bullying-_n_2246767.html

    I actually see the police as bullies in the story about the kindergartener….so trying to determine how and when and where police intervention is appropriate or necessary is difficult.

    The law doesn’t provide any powers not already allowed, but does it shift the climate? Do you want the police called when little Tommy calls Mike a poopoo head? Because there is a grave likelihood that they will be called and that Tommy might actually do a spell in jail…the likelihood of human error is pretty high. I don’t want to live in a society where the police arrest more children than they already are.

    But we also need to create an environment where the boy who gets stuffed into his locker and gay baited KNOWS he has recourse to criminal justice, even though it happened during gym class.

    So the question remains, how much do you want the state involved? Most homeschoolers, myself included, are ready to burst forth with, “Not at alllllll….nooooo thank you state.” But unfortunately, that leaves a huge gap of unprotected citizens being bullied at school. And so I find myself thinking, well, I want the police to be called, but not the police we currently have….

    So where I think our energy should be spend, is building both schools and police departments that are more sensitive to bullying. I’m not sure this legislation would do that. I think we could, as a society, do something less ham-handed…. I’m not sure what but I am sure that’s the conversation we should have.

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