VALPARAISO | Valparaiso School Board members voiced displeasure Monday with a new state law's requirement for schools to take action on bullying that occurs outside school.
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Michael Berta said House Act 1423 — signed by Gov. Mike Pence in May — outlines the actions schools must take in response to bullying.
Berta said the legislation mandates schools conduct an investigation of reported bullying, expanding the location of those incidents to include ones that occur away from school.
That means if bullying occurs on a Saturday night at a movie theater, and school personnel become aware of it, “we have an obligation to become involved," Berta said.
The law also expands the definition of bullying to include digital and electronic messages. Technology such as Facebook opens up a 24/7 time frame in which potential incidents could occur, Berta said.
Berta said while his job is to implement the law, he views the time and resources needed to enforce the new law as detrimental to schools' ability to focus on education.
“This is one more responsibility, and a big one, that detracts from the teaching and learning process,” he said.
Board member Paul Knauff agreed.
“We're really taking on more responsibility for society and not getting any more money for it,” he said.
Member James Sarkisian said the schools should have a definition of what constitutes bullying, because otherwise it could be considered any “harsh” words directed toward another person.
Board Attorney David Hollenbeck said there is still some struggle with the definition of bullying, and there could be challenges from civil libertarian groups who object to the law.
The law also requires school districts to track and report bullying incidents in an annual report to the state and establish a timetable for reporting incidents to parents.
Teachers or other school personnel who are aware of incidents, but fail to report them, will face disciplinary action.
Resident Christopher Pupillo suggested the board get students involved in the process so they can help model anti-bullying behavior.
Hollenbeck said schools will receive help with implementation from the Indiana Department of Education.