Boles Switches on Bullying Bill
After voting in favor of the School Violence Prevention Act Monday, state Rep. Jamie Boles of Moore County voted no on the bill Tuesday.
Boles, who joined 50 Republicans and six Democrats in voting no, said he has zero tolerance for bullies in schools but also feels that accountability should be given to the administration. When an amendment to that effect failed to gain approval, he withdrew his support.
The House voted 58-57 in favor for the measure, now awaiting Gov. Bev Perdue's signature. Perdue is expected to sign the legislation, according to spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson.
The bill seeks to protect students from being tormented for characteristics such as race, color, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status. It also protects those who are harassed for their real or perceived sexual orientation.
The inclusion of sexual orientation received bitter criticism from conservative and religious groups, who argued that it would set a precedent for expanding gay rights into other laws. They also complained that special groups were being favored rather than all students.
Although North Carolina is one of the last states to pass an anti-bullying law, it is only one of eight states to include gay students under its protection.
Under the bill's requirements teachers, students and others must report any bullying that occurs. Punishments are then up to the school districts.
Boles said he supported an amendment by Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican, which would require punishment of school employees who do not report or investigate a bullying incident. This last-minute change would have sent the bill back to the Senate committee for another vote. Supporters of the bill characterized the amendment as a stalling effort.
The bill as approved, Boles feels, can allow teachers not to report bullying incidents because they do not want to get in the middle.
"Once an incident is reported, it must be investigated fully," Boles said. "Those who bully or turn a blind eye to bullying must be punished. ... I have no problem with the characteristics highlighted in the bill. What I do have a problem with is that the bill identifies the bully and then protects them from being bullied."
The bill was passed without any changes.
The Moore County Board of Education adopted a harassment policy in June of 2007 and revised it in May 2009. The policy is similar in that it prohibits "harassment on the basis of race, religion, sex, ethnicity, national origin or disability," but does not include sexual orientation.
"We have been proactive with bully policies before the legislation," says Tim Lussier, spokesman for Moore County public schools. "The Board [of Moore County Schools] and our attorneys will review the new legislature and then see what needs to be addressed."
Lussier anticipates that only some terminology needs to be added to the current policy.
"We have been ahead of the game," he said.
Jonathan Summey can be reached at 693-2482.
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