LEGISLATIVE WATCH WYOMING: Senate Committee Advances Anti-Bullying Bill

Bill specifies school districts’ policies apply to more than just students

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jan 12, 2023

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The Senate education committee wasted no time getting down to business on the second day of the legislative session and passed a bill Wednesday that specifies Wyoming school districts must develop policies to prohibit bullying and harassment beyond just students.

The proposed legislation, “Safe school and climate act amendments” or Senate File 49, prohibits harassment, intimidation or bullying by any person, “including but not limited to students, school or district employees, administrators or volunteers.” It also requires each school district to adopt an anti-bullying policy and involve parents, guardians, school employees, volunteers, students and others in creating the policy.

Senator Cheri Seinmetz talks during the opening session of the 67th Legislature at the Wyoming State Capitol on January 10, 2023 in Cheyenne. Photo by Michael Smith

The bill passed the committee, which has five members, with four aye votes. Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) excused himself from the vote. Now that it has passed the committee, the legislation should head to the Senate floor for review.

Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), who previously served on the education committee, testified Wednesday that she had received calls from parents of high school football players in Cheyenne who felt their coach was bullying them.

“This is a very serious situation, where students on a football team were being harassed by their coach and retaliated against when their parents spoke up,” Ellis said. “So, going into the 2022 interim, we wanted to investigate some options of how we could maybe provide some more transparency…One thing that did emerge was the fact that parents wanted to at least acknowledge or [look at] our anti-bullying statutes to make it clear that those bullying statutes apply not only from students-to-students but could apply from teacher-to-student or vice versa.”

The bill also mandates that schools’ anti-bullying policies include consequences and appropriate remedial actions for persons who bully, harass or intimidate others; procedures for reporting and documenting violations to the policies; and a process for talking about the districts’ policies with students. The bill would go into effect July 1, 2023.

The Wyoming Education Association (WEA) expressed support for Senate File 49.

“Students cannot learn or thrive if their mental or physical health is being compromised by bullying,” WEA President Grady Hutcherson told the Wyoming Truth. “WEA supports legislating against bullying and supports safe, equitable and inclusive learning environments for all students.”

Under the legislation, the Wyoming Department of Education would be required to develop model policies for kindergarten through 12th grade and teacher guidance on identifying and preventing bullying by no later than Sept. 1, 2023.

Kathy Scigliano, a parent of Laramie County School District 1, told the Senate education committee Wednesday that school districts underreport issues of bullying, and parents know these types of incidents get lost in the shuffle.

“I don’t know what the answer is to this issue, but you can’t legislate how people feel and it certainly can’t control what they do with it,” Scigliano said. “If there’s not going to be any true consequences, this is nothing but fluff to make someone feel better and say they got something passed…. There has to be consequences.”

Scigliano recommended the bill also include threats and offer clear definitions for bullying, intimidation and harassment.

Linda Finnerty, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Education, told the Wyoming Truth that current statute requires all school districts to have bullying and harassment policies in place, but  these vary from district to district.

“[The bill] strengthens the statute around bullying and harassment by expressly identifying all those prohibited from bullying, intimidating or harassing a student,” Finnerty said. “Additionally, the bill requires the [education department] to update its state-level guidance. It is important to continually update state-level guidance based on current best practices, and the department stands ready to do so in the area of bullying, intimidation and harassment, no matter the outcome of this bill.”

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