The law, it seems, has failed too many students in Illinois' public schools. According to reliable reports, more than half of Illinois students have been verbally harassed in school, while almost a quarter have been victims of physical harassment. This bullying—and the lack of meaningful policies to successfully prevent or address such behavior—turns school for too many youth from a safe place to learn and grow, into a nightmare to be feared and avoided. Sadly, bullying often targets students with learning disabilities or medical conditions that affect their appearance. And for victims, bullying’s not just emotionally harmful: it increases suicide risk and affects academic success.
Part of the problem is that reporting bullying is much tougher than it seems. While Illinois law already requires schools to have anti-bullying policies, putting those in action has been a challenge. Victims of bullying fear victim-blaming, and they regularly face a lack of understanding from school officials, who might think that the bullying is an irregularity. Reporting bullying can be so difficult because schools don’t have the guidance to make sure that anti-bullying policies do what they’re supposed to do.
But today, Governor Pat Quinn’s signature is a symbol of commitment and of change for Illinois students and families. It’s a symbol of making school a safe place, as it enacts a key anti-bullying bill.
House Bill 5707 was approved on May 29 of this year and signed into law by the Governor today, and it thoroughly defines bullying. It also includes procedures and interventions, developed by local school districts and schools, for reporting and dealing with bullying that offer victims anonymity and that allow for investigation. Plus, the new law will allow for data collection that will let the Illinois School Board of Education know how much bullying actually happens and where.
This new law however, does not take control away from schools. There’s no specific curriculum that schools have to use, and schools won’t be required to bring any special interest groups or speakers to the school. The schools are in control, armed with the tools they need to combat bullying.
Perhaps the bill says it best when it proclaims that “a safe and civil school environment is necessary for students to learn and achieve.” Today, Illinois is one step closer to creating that environment, thanks to the commitment of Representative Kelly Cassidy and Senator Heather Steans and the support of Governor Pat Quinn.