A bill circulating in Madison right now proposes giving fines to educators in Wisconsin who don't report bullying incidents.
Teachers and staff members would be fined $200 for not reporting cases of bullying under the proposal from Republican Representative Gary Bies of northern Wisconsin.
Rep. Bies tells the State Journal parents say teachers aren't doing enough to stop bullying. The Department of Public Instruction's policy defines bullying as "deliberate or intentional behavior using words or actions, intended to cause fear, intimidation or harm." It says bullying can be physical, verbal, or indirect, such as spreading rumors, social exclusion, or cyber bullying.
Educators fear the bill could have unintended consequences, like leading to teachers over-identifying student behavior as bullying because they don't want to risk being fined.
Local educators say another concern with the bill is that it isolates the broad problem of bullying in our society to a single school or classroom.
"To look at an educator, somebody who has a heart full of compassion, lots of supports, lots of strategies to help students through difficult situations, and then vilify them potentially with a fine really misses the mark if our goal is to keep kids safe and address bullying issues," says Troy Harcey of the La Crosse School District. "It really could be perceived as an insult to what's being done behind the scenes to try and help and support kids and to mitigate bullying issues."
He says a better strategy to get to the root of the bullying problem, is by continuing to educate the entire community about bullying, and civility.
"What we need to do is stop the blame game, and stop taking chips out from some of those people who are true heroes: our classroom teachers and principals, and take a broader perspective look at societal issues that are causing bullying," says Harcey, adding, "A rising tide rises all boats."
Harcey says the La Crosse School District has procedures for reporting bullying, and offers students who may be being bullied or harassed help in a variety of ways.