Lawmakers approve bill drafts addressing school ‘climate,’ mental health services, student discipline

State lawmakers continued working this month to address reports of harassment and bullying in K-12 schools – by adults as well as students.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee advanced a bill draft Nov. 15 clarifying that school “climate” laws apply to district employees, administrators and volunteers, in addition to students.

The committee considered including parents on the list as well, pointing to disruptions that have taken place at school board meetings and athletic events throughout the state, but an amendment to that effect failed.

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Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, pointed out that the statute already states that “no person shall engage in” bullying behavior, technically encompassing “everyone” – including parents.

“That seems pretty clear-cut in my mind,” he said.

The bill draft passed unanimously.

Mental health

Another bill draft the committee considered this month passed in a closer vote: 8-6.

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The legislation would create a competitive grant program to help fund mental health services in K-12 schools.

Multiple school officials spoke in favor of the proposal during this month’s meeting, including Dubois High School guidance counselor Mike Marcus.

“I 100 percent support this bill,” Marcus said. “The need is definitely there.”

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DHS received a donation to hire a part-time mental health specialist this year, Marcus explained, and in less than three months she had already met with 20 clients.

Those clients would likely have had to pay more than $100 per hour for similar services outside of school, Marcus noted, and “a lot of our students and families can’t support that – so we’re kind of filling the gap.”

“Our district … would encourage you to pass and support this (bill) for the students and our families in our community,” he said.

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Student discipline

The Education Committee also approved a bill draft this month that would require the state superintendent of public instruction to develop “model rules and policies for student discipline, including suspension and expulsion.”

“Districts would find this valuable,” Wyoming Department of Education chief policy officer Wanda Maloney said. “It gives them another tool to use. … They don’t have to necessarily utilize it, but it does give them some best practice and evidence-based policies to follow.”

Another bill draft the committee approved during the meeting would repeal a statute that currently provides “civil and criminal immunity for teachers, principals and superintendents” who exercise “reasonable corporal discipline of a student authorized by school district board of trustee policy.”

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