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By Todd Dorman Journal Des Moines Bureau

WEST DES MOINES March, 2007 -- Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signed legislation Monday requiring the state's school districts to adopt stringent anti-bullying policies.

Culver signed the bill at Valley High School before a crowd of students, state lawmakers and activists who have lobbied for the measure for several years. The Democratic governor fulfilled a campaign promise and checked another major item off his legislative to-do list.

"This bill makes it clear that Iowans are committed to providing protection against intolerance in every Iowa school district," said Culver, a former high school teacher. "Iowa is making it clear today that bullying, threats and intimidation have no place in our public education system."

Culver said Iowa is one of only 10 states to adopt a statewide anti-bullying policy.

Under the bill, public and accredited non-public school districts are required to adopt anti-bullying policies that apply to all students, staff and volunteers.

But those plans must also take specific aim at bullies whose taunts are focused on a list of real or perceived traits or characteristics. That list includes "age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender, identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or, disability, ancestry, political beliefs, socioeconomic status or familial status."

The list -- in particular its mention of sexual orientation and gender identity -- made the bill politically controversial. Republicans who controlled the Legislature in recent years previously blocked debate on the measure.

That changed this year with Democrats in control of the Legislature and the governor's office.

But Sen. Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, discounted the bill's effect on stopping bullying and warned that it could have unintended consequences.

"I think it will have absolutely no impact whatsoever," McKinley said. "But I think it could set up a reaction against kids based on their protected class status."

McKinley also points out that the bill carries no penalties for schools that fail to adopt policies.

Backers of the bill argue the list is necessary to put the focus on students who traditionally have been targets of abuse. And they acknowledge that enforcement is the next challenge.

"Policy is only as good as the shelf it sits on, so we need to make sure teachers and administrators actually enact the policy," said Brad Clark, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools.

School districts, under the bill, are required to have policies in place by Sept. 1.

Todd Dorman can be reached at (515) 243-0138 or at

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