Guest editorial: Utah anti-bullying rule oversteps its bounds
Regarding the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) anti-bullying rule re-write, as a young chubby bespectacled geek I was the brunt of a good bit of bullying and write from experience about The Park Record’s news items on Jan. 29, “State officials weigh changes to anti-bullying rule Park City School District cited in Welcoming Schools debate” and Feb. 12, “Committee approves tweaks to state anti-bullying rule cited in Welcoming Schools controversy.”
The current and most recent anti-bullying rule re-write draft transcends state law and references a litany of federal offenses:
• 1964 Civil Rights Act
• Title IX
• Americans With Disabilities Act
This is overkill. It conflates bullying with discrimination. Do we want, literally, to make federal cases out of juvenile behavior?
According to Utah State Board of Education (USBE) testimony from Aug. 29, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed a similar rule in another state unconstitutional. The rule is not aligned with state law. It lends itself to inconsistencies in application. It elevates protected classes to privileged classes. It makes administrators arbiters of and compels speech — a violation of our precious First Amendment.
I can find no evidence the carve outs have ever even been used. Purged from the USBE anti-bullying rule, the protections remain intact in federal law — bloating the rule with federal crimes is redundant.
We all recall the bias attack against a conservative group here at the high school. The young perpetrator could have been charged with federal crimes. Knowing kids make stupid mistakes and not wanting to ruin this kid’s life, many victims requested leniency. Yet the USBE rule prescribes criminal referrals for simple name-calling. For example, kids who call a Jewish kid “Nazi” or who call a black classmate the other “N word” could be charged with federal civil rights violations. A local educator recently shared, “If name calling were criminal, I’d have no kids left on campus.” I don’t condone name-calling, yet neither do I support wrecking a kid’s life for doing so. I do support restoring some sanity and sense of proportion into the rule.
Further, eliminating these carve outs is consistent with the data. The Student Health And Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey data clearly shows no epidemic of bias-based bullying for gender, orientation or race. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Year after year, grade by grade, the data show these groups in Utah or Park City simply do not need these special carve outs.
One complainant writes without explanation the re-write is “shameful, unwarranted, and a step back.” Again, it’s exactly the opposite, it’s proof of progress. Removing complexity, removing special carve outs, removing ambiguity and redundancy, aligning the rule with state law and the Constitution — these are common sense, forward looking, and exactly the right thing to do.
It’s been over half a century since the Civil Rights Act was passed. We’ve made amazing progress. Though racism isn’t quite behind us, the opposite — racialism — now permeates society, exacerbating divisiveness.
Liberal Sam Harris’ “Making Sense” podcast recently aired episode No. 182 “Unlearning Race,” an interview with black author Thomas Chatterton Williams in which they discuss a truly post-racial society in which skin color is no more interesting than hair color or eye color.
Mindful of MLK’s dream of “… a nation where (children) will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” we oughtn’t be in the business of creating and cultivating victims. How will we ever achieve a color-blind, bias-free society if we teach kids that they are unequal, that some of them deserve special treatment?
As Bob Newhart famously says, “Stop it!”
I’m sympathetic to well-intended emotions, yet making federal crimes of juvenile behavior is unwise. Instead let’s leverage our data, and also focus on identifying and protecting the kids who are actually getting bullied by adopting a common-sense anti-bullying rule re-write giving all our kids — whatever color, sex, gender, skills, talents, phenotype, etc. — the equal protections they deserve.
With Erin’s leadership, we find comfort knowing more families like ours will have the privilege to give their own kids a solid foundation of lifelong learning for generations to come.
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