New bullying law shelved in House Education Committee

Drew White, LSU Manship School News Service
Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, authored an unsuccessful measure to strengthen current anti-bullying procedures in state schools.

An anti-bullying bill that would have permitted public school officials to use physical force against students taking part in bullying was shelved Tuesday in the House Education Committee.

The unsuccessful bill, authored by Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, aimed to strengthen current anti-bullying procedures and give additional protection to victims to prevent suicides by children who are victims of bullying.

“It’s time for us to get back to discipline, respect, values, and some teeth in our anti-bullying law so that next year we do not have pictures of other children that are lying in the coffin,” Milkovich said.

“Children are bullied over a period of time, the complaints are made to the school system over and over and the school system essentially does nothing,” he added.

The bill would have authorized any school employee who witnessed an incident of bullying to “take all steps deemed necessary to stop the behavior,” including using reasonable force, physical restraint or law enforcement to remove the offending student from school grounds.

The state Senate approved the anti-bullying bill last month, but urged Milkovich to work with school officials and the Louisiana Bullying Awareness and Treatment Task Force to see what legal changes would be needed to address issues with it.

Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, the committee chairwoman, noted Tuesday that Milkovich had not incorporated any amendments to alleviate concerns voiced by school officials.

Those in opposition, including the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, were concerned with the reasonable force measures and felt that the bill did not fully address the complexities of bullying.

“Can you knock someone’s head off because they throw a spitball or call somebody names?” Milkovich said. “The physical force restraint should be proportionate to the level of perceived risk.”

Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, argued that current anti-bullying laws are sufficient to deal with cases of bullying.

“If appropriate procedures are not being followed when children are reporting that they are being bullied, then that is the obligation of the school systems and the Department of Education to make sure that school systems are aware of procedures that are supposed to be followed,” she said.

Current law requires school employees to receive training on how to recognize, report and respond to bullying. It also prohibits retaliation against any person who reports the behavior.

Milkovich, who had a similar bill fail last year, encouraged fellow lawmakers to draft another anti-bullying bill for the next year to add to existing procedures.

Originally published May 15.