WYOMING SCHOOLS AT A CROSSROADS: Joint Education Committee Passes Bills to Solidify Anti-Bullying and Physical Discipline Policies in Public Schools
Staffer says schools already have prevention policies in place
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Nov 21, 2022
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Two proposed education bills that recently passed a state legislative committee would specify that Wyoming school districts’ policies prohibit bullying beyond just students and guarantee that all districts forbid corporal discipline, says a state employee. However, some education stakeholders question the necessity of the bills given that prevention policies already exist in school districts statewide.
“The bill specifies that bullying by school or district employees, administrators and volunteers will not be tolerated,” said Linda Finnerty, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Education. “In the past, it was limited to bullying by students. It could have the effect of raising awareness that bullying isn’t limited to students bullying other students.”
The legislation, which passed unanimously with a 14-0 vote in the Wyoming legislature’s Joint Education Committee last week, states that no person, “including but not limited to students, school or district employees, administrators or volunteers” shall engage in bullying, harassment or intimidation.
Sydney D’Agosta, a Gillette resident who is a parent to a fifth grader, eighth grader and a high school sophomore, said about the bill, “Teachers and adults in schools should lead by example, and if they are bullying other kids or even adults, they should be held accountable for it.”
However, D’Agosta noted that her children have never been bullied by an adult or another student.
The Joint Education Committee also voted 13-1 to repeal a provision that granted civil and criminal immunity for teachers, principals and superintendents for using “reasonable corporal discipline” on students. If this provision is removed, school staffers could be held liable for disciplining students this way in civil and criminal cases.
Finnerty says current district policies on corporal discipline might vary, but that the Wyoming Education Department is not aware of any district that presently uses this type of punishment.
“There was testimony that many schools prohibit corporal punishment already,” Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody), a member of the Joint Education Committee, told the Wyoming Truth. “I believe that corporal punishment is not appropriate in our schools.”
She added there is a misconception that the language in the current anti-harassment law only addresses bullying among students.
“In my opinion, current language addresses all types of bullying,” Newsome said. “However, there was a compelling case made that adding the list of persons included is necessary to clarify that this statute addresses more than student-on-student bullying.”
Rebecca Murray, a certified librarian at the Casper Classical Academy, doesn’t understand the need for revising the current anti-bullying bill and the amendment in red font that lists school or district employees, administrators or volunteers.
“The bill currently and clearly states ‘no person,’” said Murray, a former science and elementary school teacher. “By defining it further in red, I feel that it limits the bill as opposed to having the probable desired effect of including those listed. I am completely in support of anti-bullying legislation for policies and procedures, but everything that I read in this bill is already in practice. Bullying should not be tolerated in any form…I do not think that this bill has anything additional to offer to the policies and practices that we already implement in our district.”
Regarding the corporal discipline bill, Murray noted there will not be any change to current practice if the bill passes the legislature. She described corporal punishment as a “very outdated practice” that is not implemented in schools and could not recall any instances of a staff member physically punishing a student in the 14 years she has been teaching.
“Teachers are not allowed to touch students,” Murray said. “As a teacher with a student that would often run from adults, I was told that I was not to touch them or prevent them from leaving even if they would be in danger. I was required to radio or call for help. Teachers who may have to have physical contact with a student [in times of behavior/crisis] are required to be trained for that contact.”
Meanwhile, Tate Mullen, government relations director of the Wyoming Education Association, warned against “over legislating.”
“First and foremost, the WEA supports any and all-inclusive support systems for students,” Mullen said. “We want an inclusive and safe environment for our students, and we want that in all of our schools. And while we respect the ideas that are in these bills, we just need to be careful about over legislating. So, for the example of extending those protections [in the] anti-bullying piece, it’s our understanding that those policies are either implicitly or explicitly already in place across districts…They are not going to allow educators or should not allow educators to bully their students, that there are policies against that.”