Young man from Sioux City, IA featured in the documentary Bully.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad gave remarks at the first Governor’s Bullying Prevention Summit.  He said:

I am proud that more than 1,100 Iowans have gathered for this critical conversation about how we can work together to stop bullying.

We know Iowa schools can’t do it alone – that it takes the community. I deeply appreciate your commitment to making that happen.

But isn’t it also surprising that we are here? Iowans enjoy a well-deserved reputation for being good neighbors. We are people who look out for each other. Treating each other with respect is a prized value.

Yet it’s clear that it’s time to have this conversation.

In the most recent Iowa Youth Survey of students in grades six, eight and 11, half of those surveyed reported being bullied at school in some way.

Whether in schools, on a school bus, elsewhere in the community, or in the digital world, bullying seems like a bigger problem than it used to be.

It is easy to point to changes in technology. Cell phones, tablets and computers have made 24/7 cyber-bullying possible – but they are not to blame.

The culture around us too often fosters a disregard for others that is unhealthy — and sometimes dangerous. Incivility has become all too common in the workplace, in politics and on the road, as well as in social media.

Schools sometimes reflect this.

Being bullied can leave children at increased risk of depression and we know it can have tragic consequences – even becoming a potential factor in suicide.

The consequences of bullying are far-reaching and long lasting.

I want to share excerpts of three emails received after announcing the Governor’s Bullying Prevention Summit would be held

Here is the first one: “My family is now defined by bullying. It forces your child to grow up faster and there is an actual loss of just being a child. My child will forever be known as a ‘victim.’ We will survive, but we are forever changed.

“My fear? I can’t monitor my child on the bus. I can’t monitor my child on the way home. I can’t monitor my child in the hallways. I can’t monitor my child in the cafeteria. The bully has the right to those same areas, even with recorded physical and verbal assaults.

“I guess it takes a suicide or critical injury to address a bully and their family. Get serious about this and take a hard look at addressing the bullies’ parents.”

Here is the second email: “I graduated from high school in 1979, and, after four-plus years of torture, I was publicly humiliated at my high school graduation.  It’s been 33 years since I graduated and I have never attended a reunion….

“Needless to say, what happened in my high school years has forever shaped me into the person I am today.  In my heart, I feel that the children of today need to know what the long-term effects of bullying can be.  The suicides nationwide are certainly horrific, but the ones who lived through it and suffer every day because of it have lessons to teach as well.”

And here is the third email, from a student who also sent a video with a song she wrote about bullying: “Hi, I’m 15 and wrote this because of a personal experience. I did the video myself, too. I was not going to let them break me.Because in the end bullying is really about power. Why give anyone that satisfaction over you! I didn’t, and I won’t and I hope more and more kids don’t, either.”

We all recognize that we must do more to stop bullying, but we’re often not sure how.

I am encouraged that awareness is growing that bullying is NOT a normal rite of passage in childhood – and that we must do more to prevent it.

From Sioux City to Marshalltown to Davenport, schools and their communities are stepping up to meet this challenge. Today we will learn more about their work.

The Iowa Department of Education earlier this year launched a new data collection system to provide a more accurate picture of bullying in schools. It also gives school leaders a clear definition of bullying.

In October, the Iowa Emergency Management Association District 6 sent a declaration of support for the efforts of my office and the Iowa Department of Education to eradicate bullying in Iowa’s schools. We are grateful for their support.

And today, I am proud to announce the launch of a new bullying and suicide prevention resource – Your Life Iowa. This hotline and website, funded by the Iowa Department of Public Health in partnership with Boys Town, the Iowa Youth Advisory Committee and the Iowa Department of Education, will provide help to Iowans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Trained counselors will offer support and guidance to bullied youth who feel they have run out of options. Your-Life-Iowa-dot-org will also serve as a go-to resource where Iowans can get information about how to be part of the solution to ending bullying and youth suicide.

Numerous efforts are under way to stop bullying in Iowa. But we are a long way from where we need to be. So what do I hope we will accomplish today?

We must send a clearer message that schools alone cannot stop bullying, that it takes the community.

I hope we learn more about how to change the culture inside and outside schools — with concrete steps — so bullying is not tolerated.

Every student should know that if they report being bullied, adults will take them seriously and that other students will stand up for them in a nonviolent way.

We also need to examine whether state law can be strengthened to help schools better address bullying.

Together, we must be more engaged in the effort to prevent bullying.

Be an instrument for change, help our children feel safe, and use the information you gather here today as your charge to improve the lives of students for the better.

I appreciated Governor Branstad’s remarks were comprehensive in nature.  The only statement he made that gives me concern was when he said, “we need to examine whether state law can be strengthened to help schools better address bullying.”

No, no and no!  We do not need more anti-bullying legislation.  Legislation will not solve bullying, just as the previous anti-bullying law has done little to prevent bullying.  Create a hotline – fine provided it’s not a drain on taxpayer resources.  Use the bully pulpit sure.  Do not add more legislation.  We’ve already seen anti-bullying legislation be used to open the door to the LGBT agenda at the expense of other kids who are bullied.  Not only that you can’t legislate kids being nice to one another.  Bullying is a bigger issue than this and it can not be solved by government.

Schools don’t need another mandate.  This problem will never totally be solved as we live in a sinful world, but it can be better addressed in local communities, schools, student groups, youth service organizations and churches.

You can contact Governor Branstad here to let him know we don’t need another law.

Update: Here is the email I sent to the governor…

Dear Governor Branstad,

I wanted to write to you to thank you for the comprehensive approach you took with your bullying summit. Many of us who have been concerned that this important issue has been taken over by special interest groups were concerned that we were going to see more of the same. I’m thankful that my concern was unjustified.

In the remarks that you gave yesterday you said, “we need to examine whether state law can be strengthened to help schools better address bullying.” That gives me pause. If you were to advocate repealing or at least making the current law comprehensive instead of just targeting special interest groups (as we know that kids from all sizes, ages, religions, gender and sexual orientations are bullied) that would be one thing.

I’m concerned, however, that you are considering support of additional anti-bullying measures. I would like to ask you to reconsider. I have 20 years of experience working with adolescents. The last 12 years I have worked with high-risk youth. I have seen this problem first hand and know how destructive it can be. That said I have never seen government be able to deal with the problem effectively. The primary reason is that we can’t legislate kids to be kind to one another. As long as we have kids there will always be a problem.

This is a problem handled best at the local level through grassroots efforts with in schools, student groups, community civic groups, churches and youth serving organizations. They can be effective where government cannot. So I encourage you to lend your voice to the issue. To pardon the pun, the “bully pulpit” can be effective. I just ask that you’d pick up your veto pen should additional legislation pass and ask that you wouldn’t be the initiator of such a bill.

Sincerely yours,
Shane Vander Hart

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