Education

State's school bullying bill stalled over inclusion of gays

A flood of calls and mail from people who don't want to include gay students in a list of potential bullying targets helped stall votes on a proposed school safety law.

Legislators have been working on a bullying bill for more than a year, and until Tuesday morning thought they had a compromise that would pass both House and Senate.

But it turned out that including “sexual orientation” in a list of more than a dozen reasons a student might be bullied was a sticking point. Both the House and Senate plan to vote on a bullying bill before they finish their work this week, though it is not certain what it will say.

The battle mirrors one that arose as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools eventually adopted a similar policy.

Opponents of the bill want the whole list removed, while supporters say it is needed to properly address school violence. Those who want the law to list potential targets said the descriptions are necessary because some bullying is tolerated as “kids being kids.”

“When people are being ignored, you have to be specific sometimes,” said Brian Lewis, lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators.

The Christian Action League is asking people on its mailing list to tell legislators to oppose it, and the N.C. Family Policy Council has written extensively on its view that homosexual rights groups are using school safety issues to promote a social agenda.

“This is a watershed issue, and if ‘sexual orientation' is enacted into North Carolina law through HB 1366, it will serve as the basis for affirming deviant sexual behaviors throughout our state statutes,” read a brief distributed by Bill Brooks, family policy council executive director.

Impassioned debate erupted earlier this year around a similar policy for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The school board passed the policy in March on a 6-3 vote after weeks of arguments between supporters and proponents across the community.

The CMS policy bans bullying for virtually any reason. It establishes procedures for reporting harassment and provides for annual anti-bullying training for teachers and students. Proponents call it a necessary safeguard to protect all students, including those subjected to anti-gay slurs and harassment.

Critics said the school system's student code of conduct already banned bullying, and suggested the policy was part of a coordinated campaign to promote homosexuality in the schools.

School board member Kaye McGarry, one of the three who voted against the policy, said she's still waiting to see how it will be implemented locally. She suggested the statewide bill was just as unnecessary as the CMS policy, especially if it lists specific classes of protected students.

“It's the wrong way to go about it,” she said. “Bullying is wrong. We all know that. We just have to enforce (the policies) we have.”

Board member Trent Merchant, a supporter of the CMS policy, said the outcome of the bill in Raleigh will have little effect locally. “That's their debate. We've had ours. The day has been decided and I'm ready to move on,” he said.

In the legislature, one senator said he received more than 175 cards, e-mails, letters and calls from his district over the last three weeks, telling him not to support the bill.

Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from Denton, said a lot of his constituents don't know whether he represents them in Raleigh or in Washington, but a whole lot of people from his area seem to know the details of the bullying bill.

“They must have notified every church in my area,” Bingham said of opponents. The messages were enough to convince him not to support the compromise bill, though he was one of the negotiators.

“It kind of hurt,” he said.

Dozens of states have passed anti-bullying laws as part of initiatives to make schools safe. Some states were spurred, in part, by a connection between harassment and school shootings. A 2002 report by the U.S. Secret Service on 37 school shootings said that most of the shooters were motivated by revenge for longstanding bullying and harassment.

Observer staff writer Eric Frazier contributed.

A flood of calls and mail from people who don't want to include gay students in a list of potential bullying targets helped stall votes on a proposed school safety law.

Legislators have been working on a bullying bill for more than a year, and until Tuesday morning thought they had a compromise that would pass both House and Senate.

But it turned out that including “sexual orientation” in a list of more than a dozen reasons a student might be bullied was a sticking point. Both the House and Senate plan to vote on a bullying bill before they finish their work this week, though it is not certain what it will say.

The battle mirrors one that arose as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools eventually adopted a similar policy.

Opponents of the bill want the whole list removed, while supporters say it is needed to properly address school violence. Those who want the law to list potential targets said the descriptions are necessary because some bullying is tolerated as “kids being kids.”

“When people are being ignored, you have to be specific sometimes,” said Brian Lewis, lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators.

The Christian Action League is asking people on its mailing list to tell legislators to oppose it, and the N.C. Family Policy Council has written extensively on its view that homosexual rights groups are using school safety issues to promote a social agenda.

“This is a watershed issue, and if ‘sexual orientation' is enacted into North Carolina law through HB 1366, it will serve as the basis for affirming deviant sexual behaviors throughout our state statutes,” read a brief distributed by Bill Brooks, family policy council executive director.

Impassioned debate erupted earlier this year around a similar policy for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The school board passed the policy in March on a 6-3 vote after weeks of arguments between supporters and proponents across the community.

The CMS policy bans bullying for virtually any reason. It establishes procedures for reporting harassment and provides for annual anti-bullying training for teachers and students. Proponents call it a necessary safeguard to protect all students, including those subjected to anti-gay slurs and harassment.

Critics said the school system's student code of conduct already banned bullying, and suggested the policy was part of a coordinated campaign to promote homosexuality in the schools.

School board member Kaye McGarry, one of the three who voted against the policy, said she's still waiting to see how it will be implemented locally. She suggested the statewide bill was just as unnecessary as the CMS policy, especially if it lists specific classes of protected students.

“It's the wrong way to go about it,” she said. “Bullying is wrong. We all know that. We just have to enforce (the policies) we have.”

Board member Trent Merchant, a supporter of the CMS policy, said the outcome of the bill in Raleigh will have little effect locally. “That's their debate. We've had ours. The day has been decided and I'm ready to move on,” he said.

In the legislature, one senator said he received more than 175 cards, e-mails, letters and calls from his district over the last three weeks, telling him not to support the bill.

Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from Denton, said a lot of his constituents don't know whether he represents them in Raleigh or in Washington, but a whole lot of people from his area seem to know the details of the bullying bill.

“They must have notified every church in my area,” Bingham said of opponents. The messages were enough to convince him not to support the compromise bill, though he was one of the negotiators.

“It kind of hurt,” he said.

Dozens of states have passed anti-bullying laws as part of initiatives to make schools safe. Some states were spurred, in part, by a connection between harassment and school shootings. A 2002 report by the U.S. Secret Service on 37 school shootings said that most of the shooters were motivated by revenge for longstanding bullying and harassment.

Observer staff writer Eric Frazier contributed.

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