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Published January 19, 2011, 09:47 AM

Anti-bullying Bill to be Reviewed in ND Legislature

School bullying is a big problem even among small children, parents said Wednesday as North Dakota lawmakers began reviewing the first of four measures meant to deter abuse.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — School bullying is a big problem even among small children, parents said Wednesday as North Dakota lawmakers began reviewing the first of four measures meant to deter abuse.

"I personally have started thinking of elementary school bullying as one of the best-kept secrets," Brenda Lackman, of Mandan, told the Senate Education Committee at a Wednesday hearing.

Lackman said her 8-year-old daughter, who is a third-grader at Custer Elementary School in Mandan, has been slapped in the face and subjected to verbal abuse. School authorities have been reluctant to deal with the problem, she said.

"These verbal insults are more than just name-calling," she said. "Some of them have been very pointed and very cutting, telling other children that their parents don't love them, that they don't care that somebody in their family had a heart attack."

Sen. Richard Marcellais, D-Belcourt, is the principal sponsor of the bill, which he said was patterned after a Massachusetts anti-bullying law. It is intended to regulate behavior on school property and at school events, but Marcellais said he would not oppose extending its provisions.

It says bullying may occur through Internet postings and text messages as well as face-to-face confrontations. It extends state laws against defamation, harassment, stalking and disorderly conduct to cover bullying behavior.

Marcellais' bill would require the governor to declare the fourth Wednesday in January as "No Name-Calling Day," and appoint a 10-member Commission on Bullying that would include school and law enforcement officials.

The state Department of Public Instruction would be required to draft an anti-bullying policy for local schools to consult in preparing their own, and compile reports about effective training in bullying prevention.

School district bullying-prevention plans would have to include plans for protecting students who report being bullied and procedures for notifying both the victim and aggressor, the legislation says.

Wilfred Volesky, Mandan's school superintendent, said he believed his district was taking steps to fight bullying. It has an anti-bullying policy "and we talk to the kids about that," Volesky said in an interview.

Asked about Lackman's statements at the legislative hearing, Volesky replied, "If something happened and a teacher or principal knew about it and did not take action, that would really disappoint me."

Volesky said bullying was a problem at all grade levels. "Where we concentrate our efforts more is in the middle and high school," he said. "They're older, and it can get more vicious."

North Dakota and South Dakota are two of the six states that do not have laws against bullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a website maintained by criminal justice professors at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire and Florida Atlantic University.

In a youth behavior survey two years ago, half of seventh- and eighth-graders polled said they had been bullied on school property by another student, said Valerie Fischer, the Department of Public Instruction's school health director.

From September until this week, she has received 107 calls from parents and school administrators to discuss bullying incidents, Fischer said.

"Parents are calling because they panic," Fischer said. "They see their children not wanting to go to school. They see a fear. They see a drop in grades."

Jack McDonald, a lobbyist for North Dakota private schools, asked the Education Committee to add a private-school representative on the governor's bullying commission. Jim Jacobson, program services director of the state Protection and Advocacy Project, which represents people with disabilities, said he believed a parent of a child with a disability should also be a member.

The committee will decide later whether to change the legislation and recommend that the full House approve it.

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