Controversial House Bill 250 Released From House Education Committee

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 250 on January 20th.  Today it appeared before the House Education Committee and it was released based on its merits.  The bill would make it so parents can’t choice their child out of a school for good cause unless a bullying incident is considered to be substantiated.  Normally I agree with 99% of the legislation Rep. Williams sponsors but this one I cannot give my full support to without major changes.  From the synopsis of HB250:

In 2014, the Legislature passed a bill adding instances of “reported and recorded” bullying to the list of reasons why a child could be withdrawn from a choice or charter school before the expiration of the statutory minimum enrollment period or why an application for admission or withdrawal could be accepted outside of the statutory timeframe for submission. This bill seeks to clarify and strengthen that law by adding a requirement that the instance of bullying must also be substantiated. This will ensure the integrity of the law by limiting its exploitation by persons who wish to change schools for unrelated reasons, but preserving the exception for children truly in need of special consideration due to school bullying.

My fear with HB250 is the schools and districts themselves.  I have heard many times from parents that they submitted a bullying report that was not substantiated by the school even though it was clearly a bullying incident.  While Rep. Williams states parents used the “good cause” related to bullying as an excuse to choice their child to another school, the flip side of this legislation is far more dangerous.  What happens if a student is bullied and the school never substantiates that bullying?  Even when it clearly is bullying?  Isn’t that putting a student at serious risk of harm or injury by not allowing the parent to choice their child out of that school?

I’m not saying every school or district does this.  But some facts can’t be ignored.  If a school has too many bullying and violent incidents, they can be labeled as an “unsafe school”.  Schools don’t want this which is why we don’t always see more substantiated bullying incidents.  Christina School District had the Office of Civil Rights come down on them because they had too many suspensions for minority students.  I’ve heard from many teachers in Christina that they have to be very careful with suspensions because of that.  As a result, things that are indeed bullying could be looked the other way due to the OCR ruling.  Many Delaware schools and districts took careful note of that.

I think with a bill like this there should be a clause that all bullying incidents be reviewed by a neutral third-party if a parent disagrees with the unsubstantiated ruling from a school administrator.  I don’t agree parents should use “good cause” as an excuse to choice their child out if no bullying is happening.  But at the same time, keeping any student at a school where there is a chance they could be bullied more is not safe to do.

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State Rep. Kim Williams Looking To Change “Good Cause” School Choice Options For School Bullying

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams introduced a bill yesterday concerning school bullying and when a student can transfer to a different school when “good cause” has been established with school bullying.  The current law does not specify what category of bullying can trigger such a transfer.  Rep. Williams legislation would create a new law requiring the bullying to be a substantiated incident.  This would mean an official bullying complaint would need to be filed by the parent or guardian at the school, who would in turn have to rule bullying did occur.  All Delaware schools are required to report this information to the Delaware Department of Education.

This bill would prevent parents from just switching out students without a valid good cause, which unfortunately happens at times in Delaware.  The current law does not protect the schools and the loss of funds when these events occur.  While some parents may take issue with this due to schools not ruling a bullying incident as substantiated (which is a whole other issue which I would like to see improved), there are other options for parents to take should a school not agree with the complaint.  All Delaware schools are required to have the website and contact information for the Delaware Ombudsman for Bullying Prevention through the Department of Justice.

In 2014, then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denned issued a statement regarding the responsibilities of schools reporting bullying incidents:

“It is encouraging to see the progress our schools have made in keeping parents informed about bullying, because that was one of the primary goals of the 2012 legislation,” said Attorney General Denn who co-authored the 2012 legislation as Lieutenant Governor. “But our schools clearly have more work to do in letting parents know what recourse they have when bullying does occur, and the state needs to do a better job accurately tracking bullying incidents so we can accurately monitor our overall progress.”

All bullying complaints, whether substantiated or not, are required to be reported to the Dept. of Education and it is the school’s responsibility to enter the information on a system called E-School.  I have always encouraged parents to request a copy of their child’s E-School report.  This can be done at a school or district level in most situations.  To read the legislation, please see below: