SPRINGFIELD — Legislation that would tighten anti-bullying protocols in Illinois schools will head to the full state Senate after unanimously passing out of committee this week.
House Bill 3425 particularly targets cyberbullying, requiring that schools “make diligent efforts” to notify the parents or guardians of students involved in a bullying incident within 24 hours of the administration being made aware of it. The measure passed the House 78-25 on March 24.
“Cyberbullying cases are not necessarily relegated to the schoolyard, they’re not relegated to the confines of your school,” Rep. Margaret Croke, the lead House sponsor on the bill, said in an interview. “So you could have a child who’s just receiving messages constantly, incessantly, from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed and there’s no break.”
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among Illinoisans between the ages of 10 and 19. Children who experience some type of violence such as being bullied or feeling unsafe at school are five times more likely to attempt suicide than those who don’t.
“I think the suicide rate and cyberbullying and bullying really needs to be connected,” Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, a Democrat from Chicago and the Senate sponsor on the bill, said in committee. “There should be a sense of urgency and a handoff of notification immediately or within 24 hours.”
Opponents raised concerns that a 24-hour notification policy creates an unnecessary burden for school administrators.
“We all monitor our emails and our voicemails at all times, even if we’re not on the clock,” Alison Maley, government and public relations director at the Illinois Principals Association, said. “We are concerned about what that would mean for an administrator if they happen to see an email at four o’clock on a Saturday. If they are out of town, if they’re on vacation.”
According to Khadine Bennett, director of advocacy and intergovernmental affairs with ACLU of Illinois, school districts would be able to develop their own policy around notification. This could include who within the school administration would be responsible for notifying a parent or guardian and what the process would be if the administration becomes aware of an incident during break.
On top of the 24-hour notification policy, the bill expands the definition of bullying from the original law to include “physical appearance, socioeconomic status, academic status, pregnancy, parenting status and homelessness.”
The Illinois State Board of Education would also have to create and share a template for model bullying prevention policy by Jan. 1, 2024.
Additionally, ISBE would collect data regarding bullying allegations within school districts, charter schools and private elementary or secondary schools, although this would not apply to religious schools. The data may then be available to parents or guardians of children enrolled at these schools if requested.
Croke said the data collection would help form a better understanding of the types of incidents that occur over a six-year period. Schools would be required to share data beginning in the 2024-25 school year and ending in the 2030-31 school year.
“We want to know how many bullying incidents are occurring at the schools and what type of bullying incidents,” Croke said. “Are they mainly cyberbullying? Are they mainly children who are LGBTQ? Are they mainly for children of a certain background or socioeconomic status?”
The measure also creates the Illinois Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention Fund. The fund, subject to appropriation, would allow the State Superintendent of Education to provide a grant to a school district or school to support its anti-bullying programming.