School bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion bill eas­ily ad­vances

House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives votes unan­i­mously on col­lab­o­ra­tive

The News-Times - - WEATHER / NEWS - By Kathleen Me­gan CTMIRROR.ORG

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has bick­ered for long hours this week on top­ics rang­ing from cli­mate change to ban­ning sin­gle-use plas­tic straws, but on Wed­nes­day evening they came to­gether swiftly and unan­i­mously for a bill that would help pre­vent bul­ly­ing in schools.

The “Act Con­cern­ing School Cli­mates” would es­tab­lish a school cli­mate col­lab­o­ra­tive to en­sure that lo­cal dis­tricts have ac­cess to best prac­tices in so­cial-emo­tional learn­ing. The bill also mod­i­fies the def­i­ni­tion of bul­ly­ing to in­clude acts that are per­va­sive and per­sis­tent, as well as sin­gle acts that are se­vere.

Al­though the vote was unan­i­mous, dis­cus­sion of the bill was at times emo­tional.

When Rep. Vin­cent Can­de­lora, R-North Bran­ford raised con­cerns about “dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween be­hav­ior that should be rep­ri­manded be­cause a child might have acted up in a class­room ... ver­sus rep­e­ti­tious be­hav­ior that rises to a higher level,” Rep. Liz Line­han, DCheshire, a key pro­po­nent of the bill, of­fered her own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

“When I was in high school, I was so se­verely bul­lied, I had a group of girls break into my home and look from room to room while I hid in a closet,” Line­han told her col­leagues. “They wanted to drag me out and beat me up. That was just a one­time in­ci­dent. I think ev­ery­body can agree that some­thing along those lines is se­vere enough that it can be called bul­ly­ing.”

“Yes, it can be the smaller in­stances of poke, poke poke ... con­sis­tent pick­ing on a child, but it can also be one larger act that suf­fi­ciently ... places an in­di­vid­ual in rea­son­able fear of phys­i­cal or emo­tional harm or in­fringes on the rights or op­por­tu­ni­ties of an in­di­vid­ual at school,” she said.

Line­han also spoke about how the bill was in­spired by the De­cem­ber death of a young girl in Cheshire, An­jelita Estrada. An­jelita, 11, com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter she was harshly bul­lied, Line­han said.

Line­han said one of the goals of the bill is to bring the lat­est think­ing in so­cial-emo­tional ed­u­ca­tion to school dis­tricts to cre­ate bet­ter learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

She said the col­lab­o­ra­tive, which will iden­tify best prac­tices and de­velop a bi­en­nial state-wide school cli­mate sur­vey, will in­clude par­ents, school of­fi­cials, men­tal health spe­cial­ists, ed­u­ca­tors and oth­ers.

“We want to get away from strict dis­ci­pline and in­stead work to get the kids the help they need,” she said. “So I’ve said this ... be­cause a child might have com­mit­ted an act of bul­ly­ing – that doesn’t make them a bully. It could be a cry for help. Many times a child who acts out this way, re­ally just needs a lit­tle ex­tra ser­vices or they need to be bet­ter un­der­stood.”

She said the task for the col­lab­o­ra­tive is to as­sess school cli­mate and do more to pre­vent bul­ly­ing by find­ing ways to sup­port “our chil­dren so that we don’t even get to bul­ly­ing in the first place.”

She said that science has evolved to pro­vide a greater un­der­stand­ing of so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing and the ben­e­fits of a pos­i­tive school cli­mate, which she said can en­able “emo­tional growth, self-reg­u­la­tion, aca­demic per­for­mance, lower drug use, school vi­o­lence and, yes, sui­cide.”

The bill goes now to the Se­nate.

Dave Za­jac / As­so­ci­ated Press

State Rep. Liz Line­han, D-Cheshire

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