Gov. Pat Quinn on June 26 signed legislation that installs protections and procedures to help students bullied in Illinois schools.
"A child who is bullied is a child who is fearful of learning [and] fearful of coming to
school," Quinn said at the signing, which was held at Skinner West Elementary School, 1260 W. Adams St. "We cannot allow bullying to take place within a school or outside a school. That's why the legislation that we're signing today is landmark legislation."
Quinn signed the bill surrounded by students attending day camp at Skinner. He added, "I feel that it's important that we lead when it comes to this issue. … It's important that our kids understand that we must respect each other."
The bill, HB5707, puts into place uniform policies for school administrators once students report being bullied, and calls for schools to report information on bullying incidents back to the state.
The bill's chief sponsor, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, thanked and praised parents who shared with her their experiences about having a bullied child.
"Each one of them came to me with a different story and a different experience," Cassidy noted. "The things that were the same, however, were not having felt heard, not finding solutions for their children … and unconditional love for their children. These people were willing to do anything to find safety and a safe learning environment for their kids. …I wonder sometimes if the parents of the bullies had given their children the same unconditional love if the conversation would have been different."
An anti-bullying bill failed by just one vote two years ago. But Cassidy has said the new law is stronger. The data it accumulates is intended to prevent administrators from professing ignorance about bullying cases or procedures.
Cassidy was asked about the costs associated with the legislation, and answered that there were noneschools are required to collect data about certain matters already.
"This is using tools that they already have," she said.
Renee Strugala, whose son Kyle was bullied, also spoke at signing, noting the indifference of school officials showed when confronted with details of his abuse at the hands of classmates.
"Bullying happened, and it happened repeatedly over the years, by two people," Strugala said. "
The end result was my son being beat up on the playground, and the end result, from the administration, was, 'two weeks of school left [and] Kyle is graduating.'"
She moved Kyle to a new district, but the problems continued. School officials advised that he dress and act in a more conforming manner.
"I'm not going to ask my child to act like somebody else," she added. "I demand that they be true to themselves, and not fit in with what society deems to be acceptable."
After repeated problems, Strugala became vocal about her family's problems on social media. Kyle graduated a year early.
"What a lot of people will never realized is, how much was stripped from my son and my family," she said. "We have a saying, 'sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you,' but that is not true. That is the farthest thing from the truth, and these kids need to be taught that at a very young age."
After the signing, a clown dressed as "Quinnocchio" arrived at the school, brandishing a sign that said "Lying about NRI," a reference to Quinn's troubles with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which his Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner, has been vocal about recently.
Cassidy was not amused that the clown showed up to a signing for an anti-bullying bill, however, and voiced her displeasure on Twitter, writing, "Shame on @BruceRaunerHQ sending a clown to signing of anti-bullying bill. Does he think bullying is funny?"
State Sen. Heather Steans was the bill's senate sponsor. She was unable to attend the signing but said in a statement, "Every child deserves to be safe at school. Bullying behavior harms both the victim and the bully, and every school should be taking steps to stop the cycle and promote the wellbeing of its students. Most schools already do this every day; this legislation makes sure we're all moving in the same direction."