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Controversial anti-bullying bill would allow teachers to use 'reasonable force'

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State senators are set to discuss a controversial bill that would allow teachers to use "reasonable force" to protect themselves and students from bullies.

While lawmakers believe they're on the right path, teachers say there's something missing. 

"When we don't deal with bullying like we should, kids are being literally driven to suicide," said Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport. 

Now, Milkovich is pushing the Louisiana Legislature to do something about it. He wrote a bill he believes will allow teachers and school administrators to better handle bullying.

"Protecting victims has become more important than coddling bullies and criminals that are in the school system, and I believe it's time to give our teachers and law enforcement the tools they need to protect students and protect teachers," he said.

The bill, recently passed in the Senate Education Committee, would require schools to report bullying to law enforcement within 24 hours. Teachers and staff would be allowed to remove bullies from schools. Victims would be able to require a bully to change schools. Right now, the victims are the ones most often moved. Teachers would also be allowed to use reasonable force to protect themselves and students from violent students.

"I think it's what's necessary under the circumstances to restrain a violent student that's acting out or harming others or threatening to harm others," explained Milkovich. 

"That's probably the part of the bill that's got a little. It needs a little bit of work. He says, 'reasonable force.' What's reasonable to you maybe different than what's reasonable to me," said Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-Monroe. 

Walsworth agrees educators need greater protection but says a few tweaks would make the bill better.

Teachers say while legislators may have the best of intentions, more research and development must be done. 

"The question of teachers having more leeway in dealing with young people, I don't think that's anywhere near the most important thing, and I don't think it's necessary," said President of the United Teachers of New Orleans Jim Randels.

Randels says many decisions are best left to educators. He says when it comes to bullying, the more critical issue goes beyond this bill.

"It has to do with resources for education in the state," Randels said. 

He says there should be a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach to bullying by ensuring students are getting the support they need. For instance, paring down the guidance counselor-to-student ratio so kids have better access to those who can help with mental health issues and social skills. 

Right now, it's 450 to one. 

"Within the school setting, are we minimizing the stresses experience as students? Things like smaller class sizes can help with that, things like individualizing and really paying attention to who they are. And when we're not resourcing schools well, those tend to go out the window, and then the opportunities to act out increase," explained Randels.

Walsworth says lawmakers expect to receive recommendations from the Bullying Awareness and Treatment Task Force. 

He anticipates legislators will discussion the bill on the Senate floor Monday. 

Copyright WVUE. All rights reserved.

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