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Cyber Bullying, American Founders' Month Bills Pass House Subcommittee

Measures related to cyber bullying, school security, open school board meetings and the United States founding fathers all made it past the House K-12 Subcommittee on Wednesday. The cyber bullying bill would require principals to intervene when students threaten each other on the Internet.

It was the first committee stop for the cyber bullying bill, sponsored by Rep. Reggie Fullwood (D-Jacksonville). He said, cyber bullying is something we hear about more and more, and it’s time for Florida to crack down on it.

“I was actually reading a story a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, where some young ladies started a cyber-fight and it escalated to a physical fight, and several of them got hurt. It seems to be a growing trend,” Fullwood said.

In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed anti-bullying laws that require principals to intervene when they learn of incidents, even if they occur off school grounds. Fullwood’s measure simply adds cyber bullying to that law. That means using any electronic devices to intimidate or ruin someone’s reputation, including posting photos and videos online and creating fake social networking accounts to impersonate them.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay) has not yet been assigned a date for a first hearing.

Next, the subcommittee approved a measure requiring school boards to meet in the evening. Sponsor, Rep. Richard Stark (D-Weston), said, the idea came from high school students in Broward County. They want school boards to hold at least one evening meeting per quarter to ensure that they, as well as parents and teachers, can all attend.

“And you know, if kids are presenting this, you know there’s definitely an issue there: that they feel that they would like for the school board to be a little bit more inclusive,” Stark said. “And we are going to honor those kids and get this thing through. I’d like to honor those kids.”

The bill is being lauded by open government advocacy group the First Amendment Foundation. They say it makes the school governing process more open to the public.

Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) said, while he does support the idea of accessibility, he would like to see the bill changed from evening hours to, maybe, just any time that’s accessible for parents.

“We definitely want to be in the position that we influence policy but not be proscriptive, he said. “I don’t want to start setting the schedule for local governments.”

Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) is heading to its final committee stop on Thursday.

The K-12 Subcommittee also approved a measure that would standardize the process for security screening contractors who do work on school grounds. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville).

It’s backed the Communications Workers of America, whose members install and maintain Internet and phone service at schools. Gayle Marie Perry, with the union, said, it’s costly for workers to have to apply for background checks in multiple school districts.

“Our contractors go to one county and they get a badge, and then they send that person to another county. Well, now they need a new badge,” she said.

The bill’s Senate counterpart is sponsored by Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring). It’s now in its final committee, having passed two already.

And finally, September would be designated American Founders’ Month, if sponsor Michael Bileca (R-Miami) gets his bill passed. The measure would allow the governor to declare the celebration of the founding fathers and documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, as well as give suggested lessons to schools.

Rep. Baxley said, he sees the bill as correcting a problem.

“When I went through high school, we had courses in Americanism versus communism that explained American ‘exceptionalism’ and why this is a different place and why things have happened different here and what those foundation stones are. I have deep questions about the direction that some of our educators have moved,” Baxley said.

But during debate, some questioned whether the measure was necessary because these topics are already part of schools’ required curricula.

The measure’s Senate version is sponsored by Kelli Stargel (R- Lakeland). It has not yet had a hearing.