Iowa governor’s bullying summit features students

DES MOINES – Students appearing on stage at Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s second anti-bullying summit Monday said kids can make a difference in preventing harassment.

The daylong event in Des Moines concluded with a panel of high school students from Iowa and around the country. They spoke to the crowd of 1,100 students, parents and educators about their experiences, both with being bullied and trying to halt bullying.

Christina Wagner, 16, a student at Edina High School in Edina, Minn., told the crowd that students must speak up and try to stop bullying.

“The students in this room have the most power. By sitting in a chair right now, you’re showing the amazing leadership you already have. You have to stand up and speak up,” said Wagner, who talked about her experiences as a victim of bullying in middle school. “It takes one word and that’s stop. Then you need to speak up and tell an adult.”

The conference’s theme was “Mission Possible: Stepping Up the Response.” Sponsors and registration fees covered the $100,000 cost of the summit, the governor’s office said.

The governor’s push for anti-bullying legislation meant to help school districts combat harassment on social media sites failed during the 2013 legislative session. But Branstad said he will try for legislation again next year

“That’s not the whole solution, but I think there are things we can do to perfect our law,” said Branstad, who said he was encouraged by the summit.

Cole Norton, 17, a student at Lisbon High School in Lisbon, Iowa, said this was his second year at the summit and he liked the focus on students.

“Last year it was more about, let’s stop the bullying,” Norton said, who is part of a program at his school that seeks to fight bullying and educate younger students about the effects of harassment. “Now it’s more that we have to empower victims and provide support for (bullies).”

The bullying bill offered by Branstad this year would have updated state guidelines for school districts to include bullying that occurs outside school on social media websites such as Facebook. It received subcommittee approval in the House, but never moved forward. The exact reasons it stalled remain unclear, though concerns from lawmakers over student free speech and the logistics of implementing the measure played a role.

In the 2012 Iowa Youth Survey, 57 percent of the sixth-, eighth- and 11th-graders surveyed reported some experience being bullied in the previous 30 days. That number was up from 2010, when 50 percent of students surveyed in those grades reported bullying.