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In a single vote, the governing majority demonstrated its complete lack of concern for two things that likely do interest a wide range of Idahoans:

First, bullying of and by students.

And second, parental involvement and notification of issues in their children’s lives.

House Bill 539 is another in the long line of measures imposing a requirement on how local school districts deal with children, and this one operates in a familiar way: Most significantly, through parental notification. The legislative summary said it would “require school principals to notify parents and guardians of a student’s involvement in harassment, intimidation, bullying, violence, or self-harm and to provide empowering materials and requires school districts to report incidents and confirm the distribution of the materials to the State Department of Education.”

The statement of purpose added, “While it is important to know how much bullying is taking place, there is not much state policymakers can do with this simple quantification. Given the relationship between those who are bullied and harm to self and others, this bill aims to better address the needs of those who are bullied in addition to responding to those who do the bullying.”

Okay: On one level, this would seem to be right up the legislature’s alley. Parental notification is big with Idaho legislators when it comes to a variety of topics like abortion, library materials, gender, curriculum content and testing standards, sex education, vaccinations (and related medical measures) and much more.

And the problem of bullying is not a small matter. Aside from the many reports from schools, there’s been a spike in teen suicides around Idaho (and beyond). Idaho has one of the nation’s worst records for teen suicide (46th best among the states). The Boise School District last fall reported a group of four student suicides in the space of just two months. (That’s the same number of student deaths, but self-inflicted, as the multiple murder of University of Idaho students in Moscow the year before; guess which got the international attention.)

Representative Chris Mathias, D-Boise, the bill’s origins sponsor, remarked that, “For each incident, it would bring us confidence that the districts were providing important pieces of information to all the parties involved: the bully, the bully’s parents, the bullied, the bullied’s parents. And specifically that they would be receiving, to quote from the bill, ‘parental empowerment materials, including suicide prevention resources and information on methods to limit students access to means of harm to self and others.'”

Given all this, you might think the anti-bullying bill – which really wasn’t exactly a powerhouse, requiring not much more than notification – would be a slam dunk.

But it failed on the House floor, 32-38; most of the House Republican leadership voted against it. You can see the vote breakdown at Getting at “why” leads to a better and more subtle understanding of what motivates the Idaho Legislature’s majority.

It certainly has nothing to do with the supposed concerns of Representative Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, who talked about, “The poor principal [who] is going to get this ‘Oh one more thing I have to report’.” This is beyond ridiculous: This is a legislature that has poured on the culture war requirements, year after year, decade after decade, when it comes to public schools.

They’re happy to have the parents weigh in on subjects – like those a few paragraphs back – where they suspect the parents (or at least the squeaky-wheel parents) will side with the legislative majority’s viewpoint.

And what is the legislature’s opinion on bullying?

You can’t indict all 105 of them. In the House, 32 (Republicans among them) voted in favor of the bullying notification bill, and there are surely more ayes in the Senate.

But for the operating majority, bullying is one of the facts of student life they’re not interested in discouraging.

Ponder for a moment what that says about the people who run the Idaho Legislature. Then think it over again.


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