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Anti-bullying bill killed by 'family values'?

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PHOENIX -- A state senator is blaming a Christian family values lobbying group for killing legislation designed to strengthen laws that require schools to crack down on bullying.

Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said Thursday that Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, convinced legislative leaders and others that SB1462 is really part of a gay-friendly agenda. He said there is no reference to sexual orientation in the legislation and parents would have to opt in for their children to receive the services specified in the bill.

Herrod would not respond to repeated requests for an interview or to answer any of Schapira's charges. But in her Internet newsletter and a subsequent prepared statement, she acknowledged her organization's opposition -- and its role in convincing lawmakers to kill the measure.

"There is no doubt about it; the 'bullying' theme is agenda-driven propaganda," Herrod wrote.

"Groups like Equality Arizona and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network have used the bullying issue in order to gain access to our public schools," she said.

Herrod said these are the organizations that supporters of the legislation would bring into classrooms to provide the training included in Schapira's legislation.

Schapira did not dispute that one group he wants protected is students who are bullied because of their sexual orientation. But he said that does not make the whole measure suspect, and he blasted Herrod for using her group's considerable influence at the Capitol to bury the entire measure.

"Cathi Herrod, an unelected lobbyist, killed a bill that would protect all Arizona kids purely because of her intolerance of gay kids," he said, calling her a "legislative terrorist." And he chided her for refusing to speak to reporters.

"But she posted a blog entry explaining her wild conspiracy theory that she thinks is behind this bill," Schapira said.

Arizona enacted its first anti-bullying legislation in 2005, requiring school district governing boards to adopt policies and procedures to prohibit students from harassing, intimidating and bullying other students That law also requires a confidential reporting process and procedures to investigate incidents.

Last year the law was amended to add new reporting procedures and disciplinary measures for staff for failing to report suspected incidents.

"The bullying laws in this state are insufficient," Schapira said.

Schapira, who sits on the Tempe Union High School Board, said the Arizona School Boards Association advised districts after last year's changes were approved that "not much has changed, there's really very little you have to do as districts to comply with this law."

He said SB1462 was different.

"This bill would have every school in the state offering training to their teachers, administrators, so they know how to recognize bullying so they could deal with it," he said.

What it also included was training for students and parents in indentifying and reporting incidents.

That got Herrod's attention.

"The questions arise when one considers which organizations would provide the training and which organizations are behind the legislation," she wrote in her Internet newsletter. And she said that gay rights groups and the Anti-Defamation League "were all in attendance at the bill's committee hearing to support and see the legislation pass."

"Groups like Equality Arizona and GLSEN have chosen this issue to bully you and me into allowing them access into our schools and to our children," she said.

Schapira said nowhere in his legislation does it mention sexual orientation, instead saying students should not be bullied for any reason at all. And Schapira noted that he amended his legislation on the Senate floor to spell out that students would only get this training -- the training that Herrod questions -- if a parent or guardian has first given approval.

A spokesman for the Center for Arizona Policy would not respond to specific questions about the opt-in provision.

In her newsletter, Herrod also said programs like this "divert the focus of our school system off the fundamentals "of reading, writing and arithmetic."

"We couldn't agree more," Schapira said. "But in order to achieve that goal, we must first make sure that our kids have a learning environment where they feel safe."

Backing up his claim that better protections are needed, Schapira introduced Caleb Laieski, a high school student in the Dysart school district in the Surprise area.

"Not only did I get de-pantsed daily, but I also had kids shove me into lockers," said Laieski, who said he was picked on because of his sexual orientation. "I also had kids threaten to stab me on campus."

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