PHOENIX - A state senator blamed a Christian family-values lobbying group Thursday for killing legislation designed to strengthen laws requiring schools to crack down on bullying.
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, convinced legislative leaders and others that SB 1462 is really part of a gay-friendly agenda, although there is no reference to sexual orientation in the legislation.
Herrod did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. But in her Internet newsletter and a subsequent prepared statement, she acknowledged her organization's opposition, and its role in convincing lawmakers to kill the measure.
"There is no doubt about it; the 'bullying' theme is agenda-driven propaganda," Herrod wrote.
"Groups like Equality Arizona and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) have used the bullying issue in order to gain access to our public schools," she said, because they are who supporters of the legislation want to send into classrooms to provide the training included in Schapira's legislation.
Schapira did not dispute that students who are bullied because of their sexual orientation are among those he wants to protect. But he said that does not make the whole measure suspect, and blasted Herrod for using her group's considerable influence at the Capitol to bury the entire measure.
"Cathi Herrod, an unelected lobbyist, killed a bill that would protect all Arizona kids purely because of her intolerance of gay kids," he said, calling her a "legislative terrorist."
Arizona enacted its first anti-bullying legislation in 2005, requiring school-district governing boards to adopt policies and procedures to prohibit students from harassing, intimidating and bullying other students. That law also mandates a confidential reporting process and procedures to investigate incidents.
Last year the law was amended to add new reporting procedures and procedures to discipline staff workers for failing to report suspected incidents.
"The bullying laws in this state are insufficient," said Schapira, who also sits on the Tempe Union High School Board.
He said the Arizona School Boards Association advised districts after last year's changes were approved that "not much has changed, there's really very little you have to do as districts to comply with this law."
But under SB 1462 every school in the state would offer training to its teachers and administrators, "so they know how to recognize bullying so they could deal with it," he said.
It also included training for students and parents in identifying and reporting incidents, which got Herrod's attention.
"The questions arise when one considers which organizations would provide the training and which organizations are behind the legislation," she wrote in her Internet newsletter.
And she said gay-rights groups and the Anti-Defamation League "were all in attendance at the bill's committee hearing to support and see the legislation pass."
"Groups like Equality Arizona and GLSEN have chosen this issue to bully you and me into allowing them access into our schools and to our children," she said.
Schapira said nowhere in his legislation does it mention sexual orientation, instead saying students should not be bullied for any reason at all. And Schapira noted he amended his legislation on the Senate floor to say only students who have parent or guardian approval would get the training.
In her newsletter, Herrod also said programs like this "divert the focus of our school system off the fundamentals" of reading, writing and arithmetic.
"We couldn't agree more," Schapira said. "But in order to achieve that goal we must first make sure that our kids have a learning environment where they feel safe."
Caleb Laieski, a high school student in the Dysart school district in the Surprise area, also spoke in support of the measure.
"Not only did I get de-pantsed daily, but I also had kids shove me into lockers," said Laieski who said he was picked on because of his sexual orientation. "I also had kids threaten to stab me on campus."
TUSD on bullying
Tucson's largest school district defines bullying as the repeated intimidation of students by the real or threatened infliction of physical, verbal, written, electronically transmitted, or emotional abuse, or through attacks on the property of another.
According to Tucson Unified School District policy, bullying may include, but is not limited to, verbal taunts, name-calling and put-downs, including ethnically based or gender-based verbal put downs, and extortion of money or possessions.
Students engaging in any act of bullying while at school, a school function, or while en route to or from school are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including suspension or expulsion.
The TUSD policy also applies to students who, by their indirect behavior, condone or support another student's act of bullying.
- Alexis Huicochea