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Bullying can threaten students’ ability to learn

Most students across the state will be heading back to the classroom later this month. This recent session, we devoted a great deal of time to studying our educational policies. One of the biggest challenges we face in education today is making sure our students and teachers feel safe. A recent presentation at the Southern Legislative Conference revealed that when students feel safe in school, grade point averages rise and graduation rates increase.

Students do not feel safe when bullied and there is growing research that when students are exposed to violence they are more likely to commit violent acts.

Across the country, 20 percent of students reported being bullied on school property and 12 percent of high school students reported being in a fight.

Bullying can threaten students’ physical and emotional safety at school and can negatively impact their ability to learn. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Prior to 1999, there were no bullying policies in place anywhere in the country. Since then 120 bills have been proposed nationwide. Arkansas has been one of the states taking consistent action. We strengthened our laws just this year.

The Arkansas legislature began passing anti-bullying legislation in 2003. During the 2011 session, we enhanced our antibullying policy even further, outlining specific guidelines requiring the investigation of all bullying complaints, and requiring all school personnel who are required to report or investigate bullying cases to go through training on compliance with antibullying policies.

Currently, only 15 states have laws against cyberbullying. Arkansas is one of those states. We added the term “cyberbullying” to our laws in 2007. And later strengthened the law to make it a class B misdemeanor. This means it is now illegal to purposely frighten, coerce, intimidate, threaten, abuse, harass, or alarm another person through any electronic communication (cell phone, computer, etc.).

And because there is growing evidence that education is impacted when teachers do not feel safe in a classroom, we recently passed a bill to protect them and school employees from cyberbullying as well. Now it is a class A misdemeanor to harass or threaten a teacher or school employee online or by any means of electronic communication.

The Education Committee continues to meet during the interim to study safety in our classrooms. We will continue to keep you updated on new information as it becomes available.

We hope all of our students have a safe and pleasant first day back to school. We look forward to seeing progress at the end of the year.